Life Esidimeni inquest adjourned

Families of patients who died in the Life Esidimeni tragedy sing outside the venue where arbitration hearings took place in 2018.
Families of patients who died in the Life Esidimeni tragedy sing outside the venue where arbitration hearings took place in 2018.
Image: Thulani Mbele

The Life Esidimeni inquest was adjourned early on Wednesday morning after it became unclear whether all government officials who have been implicated in the tragedy are adequately legally represented.

Judge Mmonoa Teffo, who is  chairing the proceedings at the Pretoria high court, said that to avoid complications in the inquest she is giving the officials two days to sort out their affairs.

The inquest, which follows the arbitration by former deputy chief justice Dikgang Moseneke, aims to decide whether there was criminal liability by those involved in the deaths of 144 patients who died in various NGOs. 

We don't want to prolong these proceedings. We understand that it is very important that all these government officials be properly represented,”  said Teffo.

The adjournment comes after state advocate Tebogo Hutamo told the court that he is representing the Gauteng department of health, Dr Makgabo Manamela and other government officials. He said it was possible that all the implicated people he is representing could have different accounts when called to the stand.

I have been given an indication that by the end of this week a decision will have been made,”  said Hutamo,

A visibly irritated Teffo said the government and implicated officials had been told about the proceedings in time and should have foreseen that there would be a conflict of interest.

On Monday, former Gauteng health MEC Qedani Mahlangu threw premier David Makhura under the bus after accusing him of making the decision to move the patients.

On Tuesday, former Gauteng health head Dr Barney Selebano accused ex-managing director of Life Esidimeni Dr Morgan Mkhatshwa of lying about warning him about the disaster that awaited when more than 1,700 mental health patients were moved to ill-equipped nongovernmental organisations (NGOs). Mkhatshwa was being cross-examined by Selebano's lawyer adv Craig Watt-Pringle.

The former head of Life Esidimeni re-iterated his stance from the arbitration hearing and said he warned the government on multiple occasions about moving patients to NGOs. He is still on the stand and will continue to be cross-examined.

The inquest will resume on Friday.

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