JACK BLOOM | Life Esidimeni tragedy a stain on David Makhura premiership

Gauteng Premier David Makhura.
Gauteng Premier David Makhura.
Image: Freddy Mavunda

Following Justice Dikgang Moseneke's devastating findings on the Life Esidimeni tragedy, the DA has tabled a motion of no confidence in Gauteng premier David Makhura.

According to Moseneke, the official reasons given for moving mental health patients from the Life Esidimeni facilities to various NGOs - that led to 144 deaths - were "untrue, irrational and a blatant breach of the law and the constitution".

"The transfers were degrading and inhumane. Many of the destinations were plainly treacherous and some were death traps and sites of torture," he further found.

Other findings were that "the families were stripped of their dignity ... Government failed them", and he concluded that the deaths stemmed from "arrogance and abuse of political power".

The total cost of financial redress will be more than R200-million as more claims are made.

In other democracies, governments have fallen for less serious scandals. But Makhura has not resigned despite claiming that he takes "full responsibility and accountability" for the 144 deaths of mental health patients.

If he really accepts the blame, he has no right to continue holding office, otherwise he diminishes the suffering of those who died.

His defence is that he didn't know or that he was lied to about the sending of patients to NGOs.

This is despite a torrent of media reports, warnings, demonstrations, two court cases and official replies to questions in the legislature that indicated the high risk of deaths.

I repeatedly warned about the looming disaster, and he ignored that too. To claim ignorance in the face of all this is surely to acknowledge gross negligence.

Should we accept that the standard for accountability is so low that the premier thinks he can get off the hook by merely saying sorry?

He has to acknowledge his failure in judgment in appointing the former MEC for health, Qedani Mahlangu, and the former health department head, Dr Barney Selebano.

His lack of oversight led to the largest medical disaster in this country, apart from Aids, since 1994. Many lives could still have been saved had he fired them both when Mahlangu first disclosed that there were deaths, in reply to my questions on September 13 2016.

But they stayed in office and continued to lie and cover up what was happening to the patients until the health ombudsman revealed the shocking truth more than four months later. His report described scenes where patients were treated like cattle at an auction and transported in bakkies, some tied down with sheets.

This all happened under Makhura's watch and is an indelible stain on his premiership.

If he had any shame or integrity, he should have stepped down.

If the ANC in Gauteng votes to defeat the motion of no confidence, it will show that they don't really care about lives lost, only their own comfort in remaining in power.

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