JOHANNESBURG, January 25 – Former Gauteng Health MEC (member of executive council) Qedani Mahlangu — who has been widely blamed for the botched transfer of mentally ill patients to unlicensed non-governmental organisations (NGOs) where 143 died — on Wednesday, denied seeing letters and emails warning against the move.
Advocate Adila Hassim for Section 27 asked Mahlangu about an email sent to her on December 9, 2015, highlighting court action against the department concerning the closing down of the Life Esidimeni group.
Testifying at the Life Esidimeni arbitration hearings in Johannesburg, Mahlangu said she did not see the letter.
Responding to Mahlangu, Hassim said: “But this was threatening litigation.”
Mahlangu responded: “The department is threatened with litigation everyday.”
Retired deputy chief justice Dikgang Moseneke who is chairing the arbitration hearings, interjected and asked Mahlangu if she denies seeing the crucial letters.
She responded: “I don’t remember justice.”
Hassim reminded Mahlangu about an email which was sent to her on February 12, 2016, by project manager Levy Mosenogi, appealing to Mahlangu to change course on the move.
Mahlangu said she was on sick leave during that time and did not see the email.
Looking puzzled, Moseneke asked: “The letter from Mr Mosenogi that raised these concerns inter-departmentally never reached you?”
She replied: “I don’t remember…I was not well. I was recovering at home.”
Hassim continued to drill pertinent questions into Mahlangu, even though she said she had forgotten most of the events which took place during the project.
Hassim asked Mahlangu if she knew about letters and litigation warning against the moving of patient to Takalani, where adults were mixed with children.
Mahlangu retorted: “Can I answer that tomorrow?”
Hassim persisted and told Mahlangu to answer the question, leading to Moseneke interjecting and mentioning that the mixture of men and women at Takalani, resulted in rape incidents.
Mahlangu requested that all Takalani-related issues be dealt with on Thursday.
“I’m human, I’m likely to forget things,” she said defensively.
Moseneke sounded irritated and reminded Mahlangu that she was provided with transcripts.
”Why would you want to deal with this tomorrow…If you tell a court that Takalani is fine and patients can go there and they get Typhoid. That doesn’t need much memory. Isn’t that plainly wrong?” asked Moseneke.
Mahlangu retorted: “I’m doing the best I can to go through the testimonies. I’m trying my best to come here prepared.”
She explained her previous legal representative had the transcripts last year and she only got the documents on January 10.
Hassim read out an August 2016 report on the low-lights of Precious Angels.
“There is no food menu, most of the food in storage is expired, cleanliness was a problem, patients didn’t have toiletries and they were overcrowded,” Hassim read.
Moseneke came in and enquired about Mahlangu’s actions after discovering the dire conditions at Precious Angels.
“Look at that long list of troubles. You looked at that and thought everything would be alright?” asked Moseneke.
Mahlangu replied saying: “It’s issues I was told would be sorted out.”
When asked if she was aware of the job losses that occurred after shutting down Life Esidimeni, Mahlangu said it was the responsibility of former head of mental health Dr Barney Selebano and the human resources department to make sure employees were employed on the department.
The hearing continues Today (Thursday).
The woman widely blamed for the deaths of 143 mentally ill patients in South Africa’s Gauteng province on Wednesday threw one her former senior officials in the provincial government under the bus.
Qedani Mahlangu, former Gauteng Health MEC (member of executive council) was testifying during arbitration hearings in Johannesburg.
She said the tragedy could have been avoided if the former head of mental health in the provincial health department, Dr Barney Selebano, had not provided her with false information regarding the botched transfer of psychiatic patients from the Life Esidimeni facility to NGO’s across the province.
Since the start of her testimony on Monday, Mahlangu has maintained that she did not know the NGOs were not fit to for purpose and Selebano misled her to believe that the marathon project was safe.
“We probably wouldn’t be sitting here if I had been given accurate information and facts at the time,” she told retired chief justice Dikgang Moseneke, who is chairing the hearings.
Mahlangu also implicated Dr Makgabo Manamela, Dr Richard Lebethe and Levy Mosenogi. She said these officials also misled her.
Moseneke asked Mahlangu why she resigned if she did not know anything.
“I was taking political responsibility. When something goes wrong, politicians resign…. In South Africa that doesn’t happen often,” she said.
Mahlangu said she did not want to stop government from doing its work.
Advocate Adila Hassim, acting for the Section 27 human rights orgnisation, asked Mahlangu if she was aware of concerns raised by health professionals about terminating the Life Esidimeni contract.
The politician said she directed the concerns to Selebano because she believed he was a competent person qualified to deal with matters raised by other colleagues in the medical field.
Moseneke put it to Mahlangu that Selebano said the concerns were directed to her and she made the decision to shutdown Life Esidimeni despite several warnings.
“Selebano said he did not want this project to go on. He said he was so scared he could never bring himself to say no. He puts the blame squarely at your feet,” said Moseneke
“It is absolutely incorrect,” replied Mahlangu.
“Why would you kick downwards such concerns addressed to you,” asked Moseneke
“Things in government work like that…” she said
Mahlangu said at no stage was she aware that Selebano and other officials were scared of her. She says legislation protects administrators from undue influence from politicians.
“I know myself to be a very warm person.”
Families of the deceased patients, who attended the hearings, screamed and accused Mahlangu of being a liar and a bully.
Moseneke interjected and asked the audience to be quiet and let the witnesses give her testimony even though they might not be happy with her answers.
Hassim referred Mahlangu to a report by a professor who stated that deinstitutionalisation should not be used as a reason to cut costs as this will have a negative impact on the patients.
Mahlangu said no one in the department thought there would be lives lost when Life Esidimeni was shut down.
“It is regrettable that people lost loved ones, but it was an unforeseen consequence.”
The hearing continues.
Former Gauteng Health MEC Qedani Mahlangu, who has been widely blamed for the deaths of at least 143 mentally ill patients after they were transferred to illegal NGOs, told the panel sitting at the Life Esidimeni arbitration hearings on Wednesday that her life is in danger.
“I thought I would raise this formally. There is no reason for anyone to harass me.”
Mahlangu said a drone hovered over her house for a while and she was alerted by security. She said she also informed the department of community safety.
She was testifying for a second day on Wednesday at the arbitration hearings being held in Parktown, Johannesburg.
Mahlangu said she felt it necessary to formally raise her concerns with retired chief justice Dikgang Moseneke who is chairing the hearing.
She said that when she arrived in the country from the United Kingdom where she is studying, she was approached by police at the airport.
Mahlangu said state security officials met her at the airport but didn’t tell her why..
“There was an unusual passport check when I got off the plane. After I picked up my bags two police approached me and said they were sent by their bosses from state security,” Mahlangu said.
Moseneke asked advocate Tebogo Hutamo, acting for the state, to check with the police and report back on Thursday.
Mahlangu resigned her MEC position over the tragedy last year and was summoned to testify at the hearing while studying at the Global Banking School in Bedfordshire in the United Kingdom.
The school has since suspended Mahlangu citing the seriousness of allegations about the Life Esidimeni tragedy.
The hearing continues.
– African News Agency (ANA),