Five times Makgabo Manamela was schooled at the Esidimeni hearings

Former Gauteng Director of Mental Health Dr Makgabo Manamela.
Former Gauteng Director of Mental Health Dr Makgabo Manamela.
Image: Alaister Russell/The Times

Gauteng’s suspended director of mental health care services Makgabo Manamela was described in her four days on the stand by advocates as being "evasive"‚ "defensive"‚ "deflective" and taking "no responsibility".

Manamela was one of the leaders of the Life Esidimeni project in which profoundly mentally ill patients were moved from Life Esidimeni homes to NGOs‚ hospitals and family homes. In the end‚ 143 patients died.

She first asked for a postponement‚ then took sick leave. Finally‚ she appeared and frequently rambled on the stand. Former Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke described her testimony at one point as: "many words". Here are five times that Moseneke put Manamela in her place:

1. Leaders take responsibility

On day three of her testimony‚ Manamela was asked by Section 27 advocate Adila Hassim about her responsibility for the tragedy.

Manamela replied: "Even if you are working at a project and there are problems‚ it doesn't mean it was [just] you [to blame]. I cannot take responsibility alone."

Moseneke interjected: "Leaders take responsibility‚ that's why they are given the power to [give] orders to others."

2. Don’t just say anything that comes to mind

On day four of her testimony‚ Manamela was questioned by Legal Aid advocate Lilla Crouse about why 59 mentally ill patients who stayed at Life Esidimeni were still unaccounted for.

Manamela did not give a clear answer.

Moseneke said: "You are a public servant‚ you can't give us any answer that comes to your mind … you owe us a duty‚ an explanation. You were paid every day to do your work. It was work to look after people. What happened to the 59 people?"

3. You are wasting our time

On day three of her testimony‚ Manamela was told by advocate Hassim that she would not take responsibility for her role as a leader in the tragedy.

Moseneke raised his voice‚ something he had not done previously in the five-week-long arbitration hearings. He said: "When are you going to admit [responsibility] for once? You are wasting so much of our time."

A bit later‚ he said angrily: "And you come and waste so much of our time for three days and you never take responsibility for what happened."

4. Manamela given a grammar lesson

Manamela was asked why she was recalled from Natalspruit hospital before finishing her term as CEO. She replied: "A letter was sent."

Moseneke was tired of her using the passive tense‚ in which people's identities were hidden. He wanted to know who sent the letter. "You know me by now. We have spent four days together. [Don't say] a letter was sent. I need a sentence with a subject‚ verb‚ object‚" he said.

5. You just don’t get it!

Moseneke tried to tell Manamela that her decision to move patients to underfunded‚ ill-equipped‚ unskilled NGOs cost people their lives. She was being cross-examined by advocate Dirk Groenewald about a "procedural error" because she wrote the wrong date when signing licences.

Moseneke said: "This is not about the centrality of the licences. You were making a decision about other people's lives ... I am not asking questions about the date and the error. I want you to appreciate that you were given power by a law … to make … certain decisions that would affect the lives of mental health care patients.

"You exercised that power and the result is that the patients died. Can you see that connection?"

Manamela responded: "My response is even if there is a procedural error‚ the NGO was assessed."

"The procedural error I am not disputing‚" she said‚ admitting the dates recorded on the licence were incorrect.

Moseneke‚ responded: "You do not get it." Later he continued: "It still blows over your head what a big omission it is that led to ... deaths."

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