Mahlangu: It's not true to say it was my decision to close Life Esidimeni

22 January 2018 - 15:16 By Katharine Child
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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 transferred to various NGOs.

Former Health MEC Qedani Mahlangu says the "collective" made the decision to close Life Esidimeni homes‚ saying government doesn’t make decisions individually.

Mahlangu‚ who began her testimony on Monday‚ has laid the responsibility for the tragedy that led to 143 deaths on her former Head of Department‚ Barney Selebano‚ and former Director of Mental Health Makgabo Manamela.

"It was a collective decision. It was never an individual decision.”

She said her managers had assured her that NGOs and reconditioned hospitals would be ready for the 1‚700 patients after the Life Esidimeni contract was ended.

She "trusted" her team including Selebano and Manamela.

"I had no reason to doubt them."

Speaking of the decision to close down the Life Esidimeni homes and move patients she said‚ "To say it was Qedani Mahlangu's [decision] is not true. I met with the premier's budget committee."

She said Premier David Makhura knew about the decision to close down the homes as part of wide ranging cost-cutting measures.

"Government decisions are not made by individuals."

She also said Manamela did not tell her that NGOs were struggling to feed patients and she learned about this in July 2016 from the media.

Mahlangu said: "Nobody alerted that me that no one had food. We got to know about that through the media. I wasn’t aware."

She said that information was brought to Manamela's attention but she claimed it was kept from her.

"I considered myself very accessible to anyone had issues."

However‚ Manamela had testified she was afraid of Mahlangu. The health ombudsman suggested in his report that juniors were too afraid of their superiors to do the right thing.

Hearing Judge Dikgang Moseneke repeatedly questioned Mahlangu on her testimony saying both Selebano and Manamela has testified that Mahlangu forced them to go ahead with the project.

"They both say you instructed them to proceed with the marathon project for better or worse.

"You are one who instructed them. [But] You say you know nothing‚ they didn’t tell you anything."

Mahlangu gave long‚ confusing answers but eventually said: "They provided me with inaccurate reports."

She said her juniors told her there were NGOs available to house patients and the department of infrastructure would be able to fix vacant buildings to take some of the 1‚700 patients.

"I will never turn a blind eye‚ if it is going to harm a patient. I did not know there would be difficulties."

She also blamed cost cutting for the project‚ saying there was major financial pressure on the Gauteng health department: "You rob Peter to pay Paul‚ at any point in time." She said the department had many unbudgeted costs and she admitted it didn’t budget for the huge number of negligence cases that the department loses which run into millions. She also said that 50% of women who had their babies at Charlotte Maxeke hospitals were foreign and thus not budgeted for.

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