‘I cannot carry personal blame’ - Mahlangu

25 January 2018 - 13:55
By Katharine Child
Former Gauteng Health MEC Qedani Mahlangu  appears before the Esidimeni arbitration hearings probing the deaths of at least 143 mentally ill patients.
Image: ALON SKUY Former Gauteng Health MEC Qedani Mahlangu appears before the Esidimeni arbitration hearings probing the deaths of at least 143 mentally ill patients.

Former Gauteng Heath MEC Qedani Mahlangu will not take personal blame for the Life Esidimeni tragedy that led to 143 mentally ill patients' deaths.

She says she only takes the "political blame". "I cannot carry personal blame. I was not working for myself."

Mahlangu explained this while under cross-examination by Legal Aid advocate Lilla Crouse.

Mahlangu is testifying at the Life Esidimeni hearings‚ which aim to give closure to families after at least 143 mentally-ill patients died when moved into ill-equipped NGOs.

The cross-examination was tense as Mahlangu refused to answer questions briefly.

At one point on Thursday morning‚ Mahlangu didn’t allow Crouse to finish her question.

Raising her voice Crouse said: "Could I just finish please?"

"You don't need to shout at me‚" Mahlangu responded.

Mahlangu campaigned for three months from May to July in 2016 for the local government elections‚ when the Esidimeni patients were being moved into ill-equipped and deadly NGOs.

Crouse wanted to know why she was campaigning rather than working. "Who instructed you to campaign?"

Mahlangu would not answer the question‚ but kept repeating answers that indicated it was her ANC responsibility‚ "I am a politician."

Five more times‚ Crouse asked‚ "Who instructed you to campaign?"

Frustrated‚ Crouse stated: "I am not getting an answer."

To break the deadlock‚ Mahlangu asked to switch her testimony into Zulu. She then complained in Zulu that she was being asked to answer questions with a yes or no.

This she said "constrained her".

The translator explained that she said: "I came here willingly to assist in the inquiry so the families can have closure. I find myself in a very difficult position. The questions posed to me are very difficult to me.....When I respond to questions I am instructed to use yes or no. I am not sure [with a yes or no] I will help and assist this process."

She said a politician could not answer questions with one word. "As a politician‚ yes or no answers‚ angazi [I don’t know]."

She said she was being asked questions "no politician in South Africa can understand".

Mahlangu also complained that was "hamstrung" because lawyers are not allowed to help her while she is under cross-examination.

Hearing Judge Dikgang Moseneke responded and said he was there to "protect her" and allow her to explain when necessary. "I have been very patient … allowing you to give context."

He said she had to answer relevant questions and urged her to be brief when possible.

Solidarity advocate Dirk Groenewald then said: "I am tempted to point out she is requesting special treatment as a politician. We are all equal before the law."

Moseneke explained that she felt she needed to give political context.

After complaining in Zulu‚ Mahlangu switched back to giving answers in English.