Life Esidimeni: DA asks why govt is still paying Qedani Mahlangu’s legal fees?

Mahlangu’s estimated legal costs are reportedly about R250 000 a day.

The Democratic Alliance (DA) has lashed out at the ANC government, this time accusing it of using taxpayers’ money to pay the legal fees of former Gauteng Health MEC Qedani Mahlangu in the Life Esidimeni inquest.

The DA’s Gauteng Shadow MEC for Health, Jack Bloom, said the DA has written to Justice Minister Ronald Lamola to challenge the State for this.

The tragedy saw 144 mental health patients die after they were transferred from Life Esidimeni to other NGOs.

In a statement, Bloom said DA Shadow Minister for Justice Glynnis Breytenbach “also sent Lamola a letter requesting full reasons why the State is continuing to pay for Mahlangu’s legal fees even though she resigned from her position in 2017”.

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Mahlangu’s estimated legal costs are reportedly R250 000 for a single day’s work.

“It is outrageous that taxpayers are paying for Mahlangu’s exorbitant legal fees when she is the prime culprit who pushed for 1 500 mental patients to be sent to NGOs that mistreated them,” he fumed.

R405 million paid out to victims

So far, the government has also had to pay – from taxpayers’ money – R405 million to patients and their families who suffered in this tragedy.

“It looks like Mahlangu still has ANC friends who are happy to use public money to assist her. Why must taxpayers pay millions of rands for her legal costs?” he asked.

Bloom went on to suggest that Mahlangu herself should also be made responsible to pay a portion of the pay-out costs to the Life Esidimeni victims.

“The provincial government has refused to apply the Apportionment of Damages Act in this matter,” Bloom said.

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Meanwhile, Mahlangu’s appearance at the inquest has been further delayed as her lawyers sort out their payment by the State Attorney.

“The DA will continue to push for justice for the [Life] Esidimeni victims, with criminal charges against Mahlangu and others who should appear in court and pay for their legal defence from their own pockets,” Bloom added.

Worst violation of human rights in democratic SA

In 2016, the Life Esidimeni tragedy occurred in the Gauteng province of South Africa, resulting in the deaths of 144 people due to starvation and neglect at psychiatric facilities. The tragedy was named after Life Esidimeni, a subsidiary of private healthcare provider, Life Healthcare, from which around 1 500 state patients were removed in the first half of that year.

These patients were transferred to cheaper care centres, many of which were later discovered to be unlicensed and severely under-resourced. The incident has been regarded as the worst human rights violation in democratic South Africa.