Life Esidimeni inquest: Ex-Gauteng Health official denies misleading Qedani Mahlangu
Dr Makgabo Manamela dismissed the former Gauteng Health MEC's accusation that she was 'hiding important information' from her.
Dr Makgabo Manamela, who led the Life Esidimeni project, testifies during the arbitration process on 27 November 2017 in Johannesburg, South Africa. Picture: Gallo Images / Sowetan / Thulani Mbele
A former Gauteng Department of Health official has denied misleading and withholding information from her former boss, MEC Qedani Mahlangu, when Life Esidimeni patients started dying.
Former director of Gauteng’s mental health services, Dr Makgabo Manamela continued with her evidence on Monday at the Life Esidimeni inquest.
The inquest is probing the deaths of 144 mental health patients and will determine if anyone can be held criminally liable for the 2016 tragedy.
The patients died following their relocation – which was a result of the termination of a contract – from the Life Esidimeni facilities to various non-governmental organisations (NGOs).
During the virtual proceedings in the Pretoria High Court, Manamela dismissed Mahlangu’s accusation that she concealed key information about the death of patients and insisted that she had reported to the chief director within the Gauteng Health Department.
“Things go according to levels within the department [so] I couldn’t just go and tell the MEC that there were deaths before the contract was terminated, but there were reports,” Manamela, who was issued with a warrant of arrest for failing to appear before Judge Mmonoa Teffo, said on Monday.
“I wasn’t reporting to her so it won’t be truthful that I misled her,” she added.
Watch the proceedings below:
Manamela previously testified that meetings with Mahlangu were “hostile” because the ex-MEC threatened to fire officials who disagreed with her.
The former director also revealed that Mahlangu ordered the relocation of the patients even though some NGOs were not ready to accommodate them.
The NGOs had just over 100 beds, while there were more than 1 000 patients at Life Esidimeni hospitals.
Precious Angels, located in Pretoria, was one of the NGOs that experienced overcrowding.
Manamela had also revealed to the inquest that she – alongside Mahlangu and former Gauteng Health official, Richard Lebethe – visited Precious Angels when patients started dying at the NGO.
She said the provincial department implemented an “adopt an NGO plan” as part of monitoring and evaluation in order to prevent more deaths.
Manamela told the court on Monday that Precious Angels, among other NGOs, was not registered as a vendor with the provincial treasury.
The registration process, the former director explained, was the responsibility of the five district offices – including Tshwane and Ekurhuleni – that ran the NGOs.
“It was reported to me that they did not register,” she said.
Manamela previously testified that NGOs did not have food and, in some cases, linen and clothes since the department did not pay them in the first few months they took in patients.
To try deal with this, Manamela on Monday said she made attempts to find out from the Gauteng Health’s finance department on what hindered the process.
She was then given the contact details of a treasury official.
“I don’t remember the name of this person, but I sent an email asking them that they fast track this process. The finance department went ahead and checked with treasury because issues relating to payments was not one of my functions,” she continued.
Meanwhile, Manamela said there was much dissatisfaction on the termination of the Life Esidimeni project, which saw some community members submitting a memorandum in the presence of politicians and officials from the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (Sadag).
This was echoed by former managing director of the Life Esidimeni Group, Dr Morgan Mkhatshwa, who testified in July 2021 that various Gauteng Health officials were frustrated by the political pressure to move patients to NGOs.
Mkhatshwa told the court at the time that the officials had expressed unhappiness about the decision to end the Life Esidimeni project.