Former Gauteng head of mental health accuses Esidemeni inquest of bias

FILE IMAGE: Dr Makgobo Manamela.
FILE IMAGE: Dr Makgobo Manamela.
Image: Masi Losi

Former head of Gauteng mental health Dr Makgabo Manamela has complained that the Life Esidimeni inquest is biased against her.

Manamela's legal representative Adv Russel Sibara told the Pretoria high court on Tuesday that presiding judge Mmonao Teffo has stopped them from adequately cross-examining witnesses such as former deputy director-general Hannah Jacobus who is currently on the stand.

“We feel that this court is stifling cross-examination,” said Sibara.

The inquest aims to conclude if anyone can be hold criminally liable for the deaths of 144 mental health patients who were moved by the provincial department of health to ill-equipped nongovernmental organisations in 2016.

Manamela is a person of interest in the inquest. 

“In our view and our client's perspective that has an element of biasness from your side and in our view this court should not continue with a spirit of anger. We should give all parties an equal and fair opportunity,” said Sibara.

But after other parties expressed that they were happy with Teffo's performance, Sibara and his partner Adv Ndivhoniswani Makhani withdrew some of the comments.

“This is not an attack on you [Teffo],” said Makhani.

“We are asking for leniency going forward when we cross-examine witnesses.”

Teffo has since the inception of the inquest in 2021 asked advocates for the relevance of questions asked in their cross-examination. The inquest has also faced a number of interruptions.

Teffo said it was the court's duty to direct proceedings.

“It remains the duty of the court to steer the proceedings in the right direction. If counsel raises questions which will not take the matter any further the court is entitled to stop that line of questioning if it is irrelevant.

"In fact, the court does not prefer interjecting in any cross-examination of any counsel. Only when it is clear to this court that the question is irrelevant the court will step in to ensure progress.

"I wish to state on record that it is irregular for the court to admit irregular evidence and equally exclude relevant evidence.”

The inquest continues.

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