Ex-MEC takes centre stage at Esidimeni hearings

Former Gauteng health MEC Qedani Mahlangu will face up to tough questions when she finally appears before the hearings into the deaths of mentally ill patients in the Esidimeni tragedy./ELIZABETH SEJAKE
Former Gauteng health MEC Qedani Mahlangu will face up to tough questions when she finally appears before the hearings into the deaths of mentally ill patients in the Esidimeni tragedy./ELIZABETH SEJAKE

Former Gauteng health MEC Qedani Mahlangu is set to face tough questions during the Life Esidimeni public hearings on the deaths of 143 mentally ill patients.

Mahlangu will headline the list of witnesses scheduled to appear before the arbitration hearings chaired by former deputy chief justice Dikgang Moseneke when they resume tomorrow.

Yesterday, suspended Gauteng health department head (HoD) Dr Barney Selebano resigned, a month after he testified and placed some of the blame for the tragedy on Mahlangu. He said pressure to place patients from Life Esidimeni in the care of unlicensed NGOs came from her.

Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi, Gauteng premier David Makhura and the current MEC Gwen Ramokgopa have also been called to appear.

Mahlangu, who resigned in February last year, has been widely blamed for the tragedy.

Three key witnesses in charge of the project, namely Selebano, Dr Makgabo Manamela and Levy Mosenogi, all fingered Mahlangu for putting pressure on them. The trio claimed Mahlangu did not listen to warnings and said they were implementing her orders.

Yesterday, Cassey Chambers of the SA Depression and Anxiety Group, said Mahlangu must explain why warnings from experts and families were ignored. She said Mahlangu must also give reasons behind the sudden decision to remove patients from the facilities. "I'm hoping that she can provide those answers. A lot of families were traumatised, they deserve answers."

DA shadow MEC for health Jack Bloom said the hearings had reached a crucial stage.

"Qedani will take centre stage. There are hard questions to be answered," he said.

He said people will be looking to Mahlangu to bring clarity to a few things, including why she had cancelled the contract with Life Esidimeni despite a report from her then department that it was good value for money.

Bloom said she should also explain why she failed to heed warnings. "She has a lot to account for. I hope she is not going to be arrogant. I hope she answers the questions."

Section27 executive director Mark Heywood said this stage of the hearings would be about political accountability.

"There are high expectations. I'm hoping that she will be more forthcoming. I don't think she will get anywhere with arrogance," he said.

The sister of one of the victims, Christine Nxumalo, said the first question she would like Mahlangu to answer was why warnings were not heeded. Her sister Virginia Machpelah died after she was placed at Precious Angels.

"Even after she found out that things had gone horribly wrong, why didn't she do something? Who knows, lives could have been saved."

 

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