Qedani Mahlangu to be subpoenaed over Life Esidimeni tragedy

23 October 2017 - 17:45
By Katharine Child
Health MEC Qedani Mahlangu. File photo.
Image: Tsheko Kabasia Health MEC Qedani Mahlangu. File photo.

Families of the victims of the Life Esidimeni tragedy have called for former Gauteng health MEC Qedani Mahlangu to testify in arbitration hearings as she led the project to close down Life Esidimeni hospitals despite warnings not to transfer very sick people to NGOs.

Helping Hand‚ the charity arm of Solidarity‚ said on Monday they have got permission from hearing Judge Dikgang Moseneke to contact her.

"Their legal representatives are now attempting to issue a witness subpoena to force Mahlangu to come and testify‚" read a media release. Solidarity are representing three families who lost loved ones in the tragedy which has so far resulted in 141 deaths.

Insiders also said a subpoena is ready to be served on her soon.

Christian Ngqondwana‚ who lost his son Vuyo when he was moved out of Life Esidimeni homes‚ will not have peace until Mahlangu comes to testify.

"My heart will never be at peace. Why did she have to do this traumatic thing to do this citizens of this country? Former MEC Qedani Mahlangu must explain to me. Why did she have to take my son away from me? She must come back from London and testify."

The hearings have been set down for three weeks to give families answers as to why this project happened‚ but will likely be resumed next year.

Mahlangu is studying at the London School of Economics‚ according to reports in City Press. The Democratic Alliance's Jack Bloom says she left country on July 29.

But it is not so easy to subpoena her‚ if she refuses to cooperate.

Criminal attorney Ian Levitt said a subpoena from South Africa will not have jurisdiction in the UK. He explained that even local judgments don’t automatically have jurisdiction abroad.

"Even for a judgment in our courts to be effective‚ in a foreign jurisdiction‚ you would have to first apply to a court there to have it recognised."

He said instead the arbitrator Moseneke could go to the UK with permission of parties and take evidence from Mahlangu. But if Mahlangu ignored the arbitrator's request to appear in the UK at a specified address‚ nothing can be done.

If she agreed to come and testify‚ her costs of travel must be covered for her‚ he explained.

Attorney Ian Small-Smith says you can issue a subpoena from South Africa‚ but should she refuse to testify here‚ there is nothing that could be done.

"If she doesn’t want to cooperate‚ it has no powers [abroad]."

Helping Hand Executive Director Dr Danie Brink said: “It would be much better if Mahlangu volunteered to testify in the arbitration process. We want to make it clear to her that South Africans‚ especially the families of the deceased patients‚ want to hear from her. It is in the national interest that she should come and explain why she made the decision to transfer the patients.”

Ngqondwana's son’s post-mortem showed he had peas and orange plastic in his stomach and Judge Moseneke speculated‚ he may be have been so hungry he ate food packaging.

Other families have testified to this. Vuyo died at Cullinan Care and Rehabilitation Centre‚ where his dad found his body with blood streaming out the mouth "You killed my son‚" he told Cullinan Centre staff.

He awaits Mahlangu's explanation for why his son had to be moved from Life Esidimeni and became very thin and died.