Former Health MEC Qedani Mahlangu is one of the officials blamed for the tragedy. Photo: Nokuthula Mbatha
Former Health MEC Qedani Mahlangu is one of the officials blamed for the tragedy. Photo: Nokuthula Mbatha

Life Esidimeni project head tells inquiry: Mahlangu messed up

By Roland Mpofu Time of article published Nov 20, 2021

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A senior official tasked with the Life Esidimeni marathon project has squarely placed the blame on former MEC Qedani Mahlangu for the tragedy, describing her as a “very strong and difficult person to deal with” during the transfer of more than 2000 mentally ill patients of which 144 died at the ill-equipped NGOs in 2016.

Former Health MEC Qedani Mahlangu is one of the officials blamed for the tragedy. Photo: Nokuthula Mbatha

Gauteng Health Department (GHoD) chief director of planning, policy and research Levy Mosenogi has been cross-examined at the hearings into the deaths of 144 patients at unlicensed NGOs.

Mosenogi this week told the inquest that the embattled Mahlangu was determined to go ahead with the marathon project despite serious concerns that were raised by senior clinicians and departmental officials.

Responding to questions by advocate Russell Sibara, who is representing the former GHoD head of mental health, Dr Makgabo Manamela told the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria that the disastrous project, which was said to be a cost-cutting measure, could have been avoided had Mahlangu listened to warnings by the families, health officials and clinicians at the time.

Mosenogi testified that in one of the meetings with the families which, “turned out to be chaotic” when Mahlangu told them the decision to terminate the contract was final, and those families who wanted to keep their relatives at Life Esidimeni, could do so at their own costs.

He said Mahlangu told the families that in Brazil families kept their mentally ill relatives at home.

Mosenogi described Mahlangu as “a person who leads from the front”.

“She wants her own way…

“She is a strong woman, a very strong and difficult person to deal with.”

Mahlangu was also blamed by Mosenogi for allegedly not involving the head of psychiatric hospitals and clinicians and the officials tasked with the transfer of patients, who were working around the clock, even on Sundays and early hours of the morning.

In order to make sure they met the deadline that was set by Mahlangu to have the patients moved to the NGOs, where they later died of dehydration, among other circumstances.

Mosonegi defended Manamela when asked if in his opinion Manamela played a role in the death of the mentally-ill patients during the fateful project.

He said Manamela was only implementing what had already been decided by the Mahlangu.

Asked how he coped with such pressure, Mosenogi said: “By God’s grace.”

Mosenogi was also quizzed about the email she wrote to the former MEC, outlining the dangers of moving the patients prematurely and appealing for a six to 12 month extension so that they could prepare better for the transfer.

According to Mosenogi’s email this was going to, “assist us to do better work in regards to beefing up our own facilities to cater for such vulnerable patients, and also ensure that the NGOs are trained and also adjust to handling a variety of specialised patients, and also well prepared for such a venture”.

Mosenogi said Mahlangu gave a three months’ extension instead and there was nothing else they could have done except to “work hard” in order to meet the tight deadlines.

He said the final decision laid with Mahlangu hence the failure to heed the warnings should rest squarely blamed on Mahlangu instead of the department or its officials.

During his week-long testimony Mosenogi said he had sleepless nights about the closure of the Baneng Care Centre, which looked after the most vulnerable children.

The inquest continues tomorrow.

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