Retired Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke is heading the arbitration hearings between the state and the families of victims in the Life Esidimeni tragedies. Picture: Nokuthula Mbatha/ANA
Johannesburg - Department of Health director-general Precious Matsoso has joined the long list of those surprised that former Gauteng MEC Qedani Mahlangu is not among the witnesses testifying at the Life Esidimeni inquiry.

Questioned by the families’ legal representative, Dirk Groenewald, on whether Mahlangu’s resignation was enough accountability, Matsoso said it wasn’t.

Groenewald asked: “Is mere resignation a day or two before a devastating account sufficient to atone?”

Matsoso responded that she would have thought Mahlangu would be part of the three-week alternative dispute resolution hearings. “I would have thought that particular individual would be here to account. Some of the questions posed here even I can’t answer.

“She should be part of this process and she should also be subjected, like others, to the full might of the law,” Matsoso added.

Mahlangu resigned after the release of the damning report by health ombudsman Professor Malegapuru Makgoba into the deaths of more than 100 psychiatric patients moved from Life Esidimeni facilities to NGOs, some of which were not registered.

Psychiatric patients died from starvation and neglect during the move, which was part of the Gauteng Health Department’s cost-cutting measures.

Mahlangu is also not part of the state witness list, but Section 27 have indicated they want her to appear before retired deputy chief justice Dikgang Moseneke, who is heading the arbitration process.

Matsoso said the number of patients who have died might be as high as 118 and not 110 as Makgoba’s report had found. She said that so far, there were 59 patients who had been released from hospitals and NGOs who the department couldn’t trace.

Matsoso said they were alive because they were still drawing their disability grants. There were also seven dead people still unaccounted for, she added.

On the fourth day of the hearings, an emotional Matsoso described the terrible conditions the patients had lived in. She said one facility she visited in Centurion was previously a horse stable.

She said that when the department went to investigate other facilities in Atteridgeville and Danville, they found they had been turned into student accommodation.

“They were not a safe environment for people with mental health challenges. The infrastructure was not suitable for mental health patients,” she said.

In Saulsville, Pretoria, Matsoso and department officials went to a mortuary that turned out to be an old butchery. Holding back tears, she said: “One of the family members knows the area, and when she was told where her relative was, she said it was a butchery.

“That’s why I decided to go and see for myself. When I got there I found it had been a butchery. There was a bottle store next door,” Matsoso said.

She said that after struggling to gain access to the building because the owner demanded a search warrant, she found the mortuary called Put You to Rest had nine corpses, but none were of Life Esidimeni patients.

She said the mortuary didn’t have facilities to store human corpses.

The Star