Life Esidimeni inquest adjourned abruptly

Protests during the testimony of former Gauteng Health MEC Qedani Mahlangu at the Life Esidimeni arbitration hearings on January 22, 2018 in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Protests during the testimony of former Gauteng Health MEC Qedani Mahlangu at the Life Esidimeni arbitration hearings on January 22, 2018 in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Image: Gallo Images / Alet Pretorius

The Life Esidimeni inquest which seeks to establish if anyone can be held criminally liable for the deaths of 144 mental health patients came to an abrupt adjournment on Wednesday due to legal representation issues.

A number of nongovernmental organisations (NGOs) employees who have been implicated and were legally unrepresented made a 180 degree-turn and decided they now want legal representation.

Judge Mmonoa Teffo, who is presiding over the matter in the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria, decided to adjourn the inquest to prevent contamination of evidence.

Project manager for the Life Esidimeni transfer Levy Mosenogi gave evidence on how families of patients were upset about the moving of patients to NGOs. He told the court that former Gauteng MEC for  health Qedani Mahlangu had to take questions from disgruntled families when she visited Waverley Care Centre.

“It was very rough. People were complaining and raising their voices and it was very tough for me. The MEC could see I was not coping and took over the chair,” said Mosenogi.

“The people were not satisfied with the closing of Waverley. They raised questions and the MEC answered but they were not happy. Out of that meeting it was decided by the MEC that they must form a family representative committee.”

Adv Pieter Luyt, who is leading evidence at the inquest, asked Mosenogi if they explained to families  the reasons for the end of the contract.

“The MEC explained to them why the decision was taken...I may not remember it verbatim but it was along the lines of budgetary constraints and that it was a long-term contract violating the rule that a contract can't be for a lifetime,” said Mosenogi.

His statement, which was read out in court by Luyt, said when he officially took the reins as a project manager in January 2016, he understood that it would be impossible to move patients within three short months. “In February I realised it would be impossible to move all users by 31 March 2016,” read his statement.

He also said he was called a Life Esidimeni agent by Mahlangu when he raised the issue.

Luyt asked him who was the final person responsible for licensing NGOs and allowing them to take in patients. He replied that it was former Gauteng director for mental health Dr Makgabo Manamela.

Teffo said the inquest will resume in the next court term, which is October 4.

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