Former health MEC Qedani Mahlangu pointed fingers everywhere but at herself yesterday, despite a detailed apology to relatives of the 143 mental health patients who died after being transferred from Life Esidimeni to inadequate facilities.
The long-awaited testimony and cross-examination was characterised by several ways in which she said it was Dr Barney Selebano, who recently resigned as Gauteng health head, and Dr Makgabo Manamela, who quit as director of mental health, and the team of officials who had the administrative and operational responsibility during the transfer project at Life Esidimeni.’
Asked by lawyers representing the deceaseds’ families about the several NGOs which warned her before and during the time patients began dying after being transferred, Mahlangu asked for more time to check the correspondence in question.
“It is not possible for any politician to know every correspondence into the office. Correspondence addressed to me may not even get to me. It may be sent to my office and be directed to the relevant official to deal with,” she explained.
Mahlangu claimed she was given incorrect information by officials and accused them of not informing her of some of the issues arising during the transfers. She said that to her knowledge, families were notified of the transfers and claimed to have personally spoken to some, even giving them her contact details.
But family members who attended the arbitration proceedings regularly exclaimed that she was lying during her testimony. One family member who spoke to The Citizen said she searched for her brother for a month, eventually assuming he had died, before finding him at a new NGO in a converted private home in Soshanguve, outside Pretoria.
DA shadow MEC for health in Gauteng, Jack Bloom, who asked questions in the provincial legislature in 2015 and 2016 regarding the transfers, said Mahlangu exposed herself yesterday as having lied to legislature.
“The more important one is in 2015, where she claimed that there were spaces available in state hospitals for transfers when there weren’t. Weskoppies [psychiatric hospital] said they were full [and] one of the buildings was derelict and also it was pretty obvious as there were media reports on that in November 2015 – and that was before the deaths.”
Mahlangu admitted to receiving a letter in 2016 from NGOs in the mental healthcare sector warning her of several deaths at Precious Angels, one of the NGOs patients were transferred to. Despite this, she later omitted the warning when she informed the legislature that she had only received one complaint of an NGO that was not registered properly.
Retired deputy chief justice Dikgang Moseneke, who presides over the arbitration, also asked several questions, but gave Mahlangu until tomorrow to answer.
They included why she resigned last year and why she mistrusted healthcare professionals which warned her about the dangers of the transfers, calling them dishonest in an e-mail she sent to the department’s legal team. The arbitration continues.