Esidimeni official’s confusing testimony

Retired Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke grilled senior health official Dr. Makgoba Manamela.
Retired Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke grilled senior health official Dr. Makgoba Manamela.
Image: ALON SKUY/THE TIMES

The most senior official behind the Life Esidimeni tragedy‚ Dr Makgoba Manamela‚ took the stand at the arbitration hearing on Monday to explain her role in the events that led to the deaths of 143 mentally ill patients.

Manamela had to be subpoenaed twice before she would appear‚ after her lawyers found an error on the first subpoena.

Manamela was found by the health ombudsman to have written invalid licences for ill-equipped and inexperienced NGOs to look after severely mentally ill patients‚ who later died. Some NGO licences had incorrect addresses on them‚ or were for places that didn’t exist.

On the stand‚ Manamela told evidence leader advocate Nontlantla Yina that all the NGOs were licensed and “had been inspected by a team” before she issued the paperwork.

It was then explained to her by Yina that she issued a licence to Precious Angels NGO with the address incorrectly listed as Lynnwood‚ although Precious Angels never operated there.

Instead‚ Precious Angels‚ an NGO at which 20 patients died‚ operated in Danville and Atteridgeville.

When asked how an inspection took place‚ as she had claimed‚ for an NGO that never operated at the Lynnwood premises‚ she could not explain.

She began to speak‚ saying: “NGOs are authorised for operating for a particular period of the financial year‚” but did not answer the question.

Eventually‚ Moseneke became annoyed with her failure to explain discrepancies in the licences. He said: “This is not a lesson on how clever we can be. Do you know how many people died at Precious Angels?”

On the stand‚ Manamela‚ who has a PhD in psychiatric nursing‚ admitted that she had met with patients’ families before the move‚ and that she knew they did not want their loved ones to be moved‚ as the new facilities were “unable to look after them”.

She said there had been 773 patients at Life Esidimeni homes that had “no known family members”.

Two NGO owners have already testified that they were “forced” by Manamela to take patients that they told her they couldn’t accommodate.

Manamela denied this: “That is not true. That is not true.”

Her lawyer‚ Lerato Mashilane‚ earlier delayed Manamela’s testimony by about four hours‚ by asking for a postponement in what was called a “wholly unprepared” submission. Moseneke eventually asked the fumbling lawyer: “How long have you been practising?”

Bizarrely‚ Section 27 also explained that while they had subpoenaed Manamela to appear at the hearings‚ Manamela's lawyer asked Section 27’s lawyer to commission [validate] Manamela’s affidavit challenging her appearance.

Section 27’s lawyer‚ advocate Adila Hassim‚ refused to do so.

Hassim‚ who is representing 55 of the victims’ families for Section 27‚ called Manamela's conduct in asking for a postponement “contemptuous of the arbitrator and of the victims’ families”.

Legal Aid advocate Lilla Crouse described the legal request for the postponement as “wholly unprepared”.

Moseneke said he had exercised “extreme patience” listening to Mashilane’s request for a postponement‚ which he dismissed.

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