Mahlangu not on witness list at Life Esidimeni hearings

09 October 2017 - 13:01
By Katharine Child
Former Health MEC Qedani Mahlangu. File photo.
Image: Tsheko Kabasia Former Health MEC Qedani Mahlangu. File photo.

Former Health MEC Qedani Mahlangu‚ who was behind the move of more than 100 psychiatric patients from Life Esidimeni hospital to other facilities‚ causing their deaths‚ has not been put on the state witness list.

The arbitration hearings have kicked off‚ in which three weeks are set down to find justice for families of the psychiatric patients who lost their lives. It emerged that documents such as medical files of the deceased and autopsies are still outstanding.

In February‚ health ombudsman Malegapuru Makgoba found that more than 100 severely ill psychiatric patients died as a result of their move from Life Esidimeni psychiatric home into ill-equipped NGOs. Some deaths were caused by starvation or dehydration.

Makgoba recommended that the state apologise unequivocally and a hearing be held to find restitution for the families.

Starting the hearingson Monday‚ it emerged that the state's list of witnesses included the ombudsman‚ health minister Aaron Motsoaledi and the new MEC for health‚ Gwen Ramakgopa‚ but not those involved in the move.

Section 27 advocate Adila Hassim and Solidarity advocate Dirk Groenewald‚ acting for the deceased families‚ pointed out that former MEC Qedani Mahlangu was not on list.

Hassim said Section 27 had hoped Mahlangu would be at the hearings for the full three weeks to hear the patients' families' testimonies‚ so she could apologise afterwards. She said Mahlangu would be subpoenaed.

State advocate Tebogo Hutamo said the state would not object to any subpoenas‚ but it would not provide the witnesses.

He said that "[in pre-hearings between legal parties] it was repeated should they require specific witnesses‚ they should actually proceed to subpoena those witnesses".

Groenewald pointed out that the legal teams didn’t know who was working at the mortuaries and who ran the NGOs‚ so the state needed to provide names of these people to them.

Moseneke asked the state and other parties to make an agreement to find the names of who needed to be subpoenaed‚ such as the owners of NGOS where patients died.

It also emerged that the state has not provided all the documents required by the lawyers acting for the deceased families.

Hassim said she is still waiting for the 2015 contract between Life Esidimeni and the Gauteng health department‚ the two consultancy reports on the Life Esidimeni contract performance‚ paperwork showing how the NGOs were assessed‚ as well as post mortems of deceased patients.

While the state has handed more than 3 500 pages of evidence‚ Hassim said the documents she requested are "not reflected in the record at all".

"We think this hearing and the full disclosure of what took place would not be complete without these documents."

Groenewald said he was still waiting for the deceased persons' medical files. "We need those patient files. They will tell us what happened before their deaths."

Hutamo said the state had handed over documents they had‚ but not all documents were available‚ suggesting some could be missing.

"With regard to the other documents that have been requested‚ the state is facilitating [agreements] to obtain those documents. It is common knowledge that the autopsy documents are with the SAPS [SA police service] and NPA [national prosecuting authority]. "

Mosinee said documents must be provided when found as per the voluntary agreement between the parties. "We must find candid and honest answers."

The first witness is expected to be ombudsman Malegapuru Makgoba.

In an unusual step‚ Moseneke has been explaining to the audience of family members how the hearings will work and what each part in the procedure means.