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Five highlights from day two of Mahlangu's testimony at Esidimeni hearings

25 January 2018 - 09:36 By Katharine Child
Former Gauteng Health MEC Qedani Mahlangu appears before the Esidimeni arbitration hearings probing the deaths of at least 143 mentally ill patients.
Former Gauteng Health MEC Qedani Mahlangu appears before the Esidimeni arbitration hearings probing the deaths of at least 143 mentally ill patients.

The head of the project to move patients from Life Esidimeni homes‚ former Gauteng Health MEC Qedani Mahlangu‚ spent a gruelling second day on the stand on Wednesday as she was questioned about her role in the policy implementation that resulted in the deaths of 143 mentally ill patients.

Here are five highlights from her testimony:

1) If she were to do it all over‚ she would cancel the Life Esidimeni contract again.

At the end of day two‚ Mahlangu was asked with the benefit of hindsight‚ what she would do. She said she would cancel the Life Esidimeni contract again‚ but implement the move differently.

The three Life Esidimeni homes looked after severely mentally ill patients at a cost of R320 a day.

Mahlangu said at one point: "There was nothing wrong to cancel the contract. What went wrong was with the implementation of the project."

2) It emerged that R190-million had been budgeted for NGOs‚ but R176-million was being paid for Life Esidimeni homes in 2015.

Since 2015‚ Mahlangu has maintained that the contract with Life Esidimeni was ended in order to save money.

Asked about the contradiction between the aim of saving money but apparently spending more to care for the same people‚ Mahlangu said she couldn't explain because she was not in the system anymore.

"I don't have a total number before me‚" she said.

"I won't be able to answer with authority."

3) She said the cause of the deaths was not conclusive.

Mahlangu said postmortem reports were not available.

"There is inconclusive evidence‚" Mahlangu said.

4) Mahlangu didn't remember a lot

She did not know people had already died when she visited the Precious Angels NGO in August 2016. This is where 18 patients ultimately died. A report showed the NGO had problems with overcrowding and expired food.

She was asked if she had requested to see the Precious Angels NGO licence during her visit. She said: "I don't remember."

She also didn't remember when she had visited Precious Angels.

In 2015‚ psychiatrists wrote to her and warned her about the risks of ending the Life Esidimeni contract. She asked the head of department Dr Barney Selebano to engage with the psychiatrists.

Asked if he had reverted to her about the letter or concerns‚ she said: "I don't remember on this specific instance."

5) She finally admitted the government had acted unlawfully.

Judge Dikgang Moseneke‚ who is chairing the hearings‚ asked several questions about whether the government's behaviour in the saga was unlawful‚ reckless and negligent. She hesitated and finally said "yes".