Families howl as Qedani Mahlangu begins Life Esidimeni testimony
"I know that we may not bring them back but for what is worth I am really really sorry." Those are the words of former Gauteng Health MEC Qedani Mahlangu‚ who on Monday appeared before the Life Esidimeni arbitration hearings probing the deaths of at least 143 mentally ill patients.
The scandal happened under Mahlangu’s watch when the patients were moved from Esidimeni facilities into unlicensed and ill-equipped NGOs.
Mahlangu has only recently returned to South Africa from the UK‚ where she is studying.
“I am deeply sorry for your loss. And May their souls rest in peace. I know that we may not bring them back but for what is worth I am really really sorry‚” she told the hearing.
Some of the families arrived at the hearing with placards of their loved ones‚ demanding answers and accountability from the officials involved in the decision to move the patients.
Mahlangu testified the initiative had "good intentions" and stemmed from a need for cost cutting.
Members of the audience were asked to pipe down in their response to some of her evidence.
Earlier‚ families of Life Esidimeni victims broke into song when Mahlangu arrived to begin her first day of testimony.
As she walked in‚ they stood up and began to sing Senseni Na - "What have we done (to deserve this). Our only sin was to be ill".
Mahlangu has returned from London where she has been studying a masters at the Global School of Banking‚ affiliated to the University of Bedfordshire.
She has just fired her previous legal team.
Her new advocate‚ Lebogang Mmusi‚ was hired on Friday night.
Mmusi said they "burned the midnight oil" to prepare her for today's hearing.
The first question that evidence leader Patrick Ngutshana asked Mahlangu was why she could not testify in October. He suggested she may have been trying to avoid the hearing.
She said when she started studying in the UK‚ no one in government had told her there would be Esidimeni hearings.
"I didn’t run away. I never ran away‚" Mahlangu responded. "I have a home and a family here. My commitment was with my studies . . .
"I have never run away from this . . . I have never had any intention of running away. It is not in my nature to do so."
She said she had been advised by her previous attorneys that she could testify in January.
Former Gauteng health MEC Qedani Mahlangu took the stand on 22 January 2018 to give her account of the Life Esidimeni tragedy. More than 140 mental health patients lost their lives after they were...