Life Esidimeni hearings: Manamela 'forgot that patients are also people'

30 November 2017 - 06:41 By Katharine Child
SILENCE IS GOLDEN Suspended Gauteng health department director Barney Selebano appeared in the Johannesburg High Court on Wednesday asking that it set aside a subpoena compelling him to testify in the Life Esidimeni arbitration hearings.
SILENCE IS GOLDEN Suspended Gauteng health department director Barney Selebano appeared in the Johannesburg High Court on Wednesday asking that it set aside a subpoena compelling him to testify in the Life Esidimeni arbitration hearings.
Image: Moeletsi Mabe

Some of those watching the Life Esidimeni hearings have questioned whether suspended Gauteng director of mental health Makgabo Manamela's qualifications are legitimate.

They are.

Her PhD in psychiatric nursing, awarded in 2005, makes it clear she knows nurses need to be "caring", attentive to patients' mental health needs and respect their "dignity".

Manamela, one of three provincial health department leaders involved in the Life Esidimeni tragedy, in which 143 mentally ill patients died, was told during her testimony that perhaps she did not care about patient rights.

She has spent four days in the past week at the arbitration hearings, explaining her role in the decision to shut Life Esidimeni homes.

Manamela's doctoral thesis for the University of Johannesburg examines nurses' attitudes to Aids patients before antiretroviral treatment became widely available in government hospitals and clinics.

Manamela found that nurses working with Aids patients felt burned out, overworked and lacked compassion.

In her thesis, Manamela acknowledges the importance of nurses being caring.

"Leininger . states that caring is the most unifying, dominant and central intellectual and practical focus of nursing.

"Patients expected support from nurses. If the patients are supported their anxiety, hopelessness and depression would be reduced," she noted.

On day two of her testimony, the presiding officer, retired judge Dikgang Moseneke, suggested that the licensing by Manamela of ill-equipped, unskilled NGOs to care for profoundly mentally ill patients indicated that she was indifferent about their wellbeing.

He said: "Maybe you didn't care. You signed whatever you signed, you forget it was about people who were blood and flesh."

When asked during the hearings by Section27 advocate Adila Hassim about her profession as a nurse, Manamela raised her voice and said: "I am here as the director [of the Gauteng mental health marathon project], not as a nurse."

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