JOHANNESBURG, October 11 – The Gauteng health department’s chief director of planning Levy Mosenogi, who was in charge of the Esidimeni project, brought tears to the families on Wednesday, when he apologised over the Esidimeni relocation that resulted in the deaths of 118 mental patients.
He told arbitration chairman, retired Justice Dikgang Moseneke that he tried his best but that he was faced with a mammoth task.
“It was difficult for me… I want to apologise to all those affected. I accept that I have hurt people…I have engaged with the families, who shouted at me as we could not find each other. I apologise on behalf of myself, my colleagues and the department of health,” he said, as visibly emotional families and relatives struggled to hold back tears.
“I know you still need healing, I still need to heal myself.”
Am emotional Mosenogi appealed to his organisation, the governing African National Congress (ANC) to make sure that qualified and seasoned health professionals are placed to run the health department, which he described as “complex”.
“As senior public servants we need to speak truth to power. Can administrators, meaning the technocrats please be allowed to their jobs, and politicians do the oversight work,” he said.
Earlier, Mosenogi said although his deputy project manager was suspended, he did not face any disciplinary process. He led a team of 20 people for Esidimeni and still occupies his post in the provincial department.
Former health MEC Qedani Mahlangu resigned in the wake of the tragedy, while head of department Barney Selebano was suspended.
Moseneke asked Mosenogi what happened to other officials in his team and those who worked on the relocation of patients.
“Most of the team members had disciplinary processes instituted against them. The director of Tshwane region was transferred to Ekurhuleni, he appealed and won. No other action was taken against the other officials that I know of.”
There was no debriefing or assessment of what had happened, he added.
“After the HOD was suspended and MEC resigned, the moral was very low. New leadership came in…but the work relationship was not good….I think someone should have at least gathered us all together and assess what hapened on the Esidimeni project, but that did not happen. We were not talking to each.”
The arbitration hearing into the Life HealthCentre Esidimeni tragedy has heard how the health department had no proper plan and not enough resources to ensure the safety and welfare of mental patients during the relocation.
Furthermore, the patients’ situation was worsened when the NGOs to which they were transferred to, did not receive grants from the state.
The Gauteng health department’s chief director of planning Levy Mosenogi, who was in charge of the Esidimeni project, could not supply answers to questions posed to him by Legal Aid’s Advocate Lilla Crouse and chairman of the hearing, retired Justice Dikgang Moseneke.
”Five hundred of them had no identity documents, and nonetheless the contract was terminated and people were moved People were sent without grants, you told us yesterday that you delayed for three to four months to pay NGOs. The underlying issue here as posed by counsel is that it was irresponsible to do so … because that placed the patients’ lives in danger. Why did this happen? Why did you not prevent that from happening?” Moseneke asked.
”I was not aware that had happened, that they were moved without IDs … but we had other facilities to move them to such as Weskoppies and Cullinan.”
Crouse lamented the lack of a valid service agreement between the department and the NGOs. If a person is moved without a service agreement with the department, no money can be paid to the NGO concerned, she said.
”If you move people without a service agreement, chances are that patients will suffer because of lack of funds. So in sending patients without an agreement, that would be irresponsible. Do you agree with me?” she asked Mosenogi.
”Yes, mistakes crept in,” Mosenogi replied.
He added that as a leader of the project, he should have checked to make sure everything was arranged.
”Justice, this was a complex process … sometimes when you look back, one can say that things should have been done differently.”
Health Ombudsman Malegapuru Makgoba’s investigation into the patients’ death found that inadequate vehicles such as open bakkies were used to transfer patients from Esidimeni. Some of the chronic patients were tied up to the vehicles during the transportation.
Moseneke asked Mosenogi if he managed to find out the common cause of the deaths.
”Some had diabetes, high blood pressure and other chronic diseases. They needed to be looked after … it was winter and they needed clothes … all these factors contributed to the condition. They needed to be looked after by qualified people because they were in a new environment, but we did not provide for that,” said Mosenogi.
”We should have done better. I should have been much more stronger, maybe I should have pulled out after seeing the children’s vulnerable position. I regret it all, I regret that people died.”
Moseneke asked: ”Why did the department go ahead with the transfers in the face of all that? Why did the head of department, MEC do it? Maybe you cannot answer for them but why did you as project manager do it You were warned by specialists, lawyers, families. Why?”
”Going further, the ombudsman came here and told us he was saddened by the fact that state officials, who are paid to do their jobs, were visibly scared of the people they reported to. Were you scared?”
”I was not scared but it was the conditions we worked under. I will raise this in my closing statement that maybe dept of health must be run by people who know about health. It would have been far better. Throughout the years in the department, I could reach out to anyone, but it was difficult to reach the MEC … maybe she was informed differently.”
Makgoba’s damning report released in February, found that as many as 94 mentally ill patients who were transferred from Esidimeni to unlicensed care centres died of causes that included neglect and starvation.
The death toll figure rose over time as more information was discovered by Makgoba, bringing the number of deaths to 118.
Crouse asked Mosenogi if there has been any disciplinary processes against him, to which he replied no.
The arbitration hearing continues.