Premier said Mahlangu told him deaths at Life Esidimeni were normal

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JOHANNESBURG, January 31 (ANA) – Gauteng Premier David Makhura told the Life Esidimeni arbitration hearings into the deaths of 144 mentally ill patients that former member of the executive council (MEC) of health Qedani Mahlangu was oblivious and told him the deaths were normal when he asked for an explanation about the number of people dying.

Makhura said when he found out about the deaths, 36 patients had already died as a result of the botched marathon project. He explained that he called Mahlangu and held a meeting with her the next day.

Mahlangu was in the company of former head of mental health Dr Barney Selebano.

“I held a meeting with MEC Mahlangu and her team on the 14th September 2016, I wanted an explanation on what caused the death, they said its normal,” Makhura said.

Makhura was was testifying at the Life Esidimeni arbitration hearings on Tuesday. At least 144 people died after they were transferred to unlicensed non-governmental organisations (NGOs). Most died of starvation and neglect from the ill equipped facilities, while 62 patients are still missing

Makhura admitted that he knew about the termination of the contract with Life Esidimeni but he always emphasised during each budget council meeting that cutting costs measures, should not be done to core services.

“We always said, if you want to re-prioritise, it’s not about cutting cost. Want to emphasise that costs was never an issue.”

Makhura testimony trashed Mahlangu’s evidence that the department of health was under financial constraints and closing Life Esidimeni was intended to cut costs as ordered by treasury.

The Premier said he was given assurance by Mahlangu and Selebano that everything was on track.

“And now we know that none that happened. The MEC and HOD went ahead and shut down Life Esidimeni. Workers lost their jobs and patients lost their lives,” said retired deputy chief justice Dikgang Moseneke.

Makhura explained that he was further reassured by Selebano and Mahlangu that employees will be absorbed in the department.

“The possibility of absorbing those workers in the new project was not unrealistic. MEC and HOD said we have no problem with Nehawu. We don’t know why you are coming in. We will keep engaging [the National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union] Nehawu. That was their assurance to me,” Makhura said.

Previously, Selebano and Project Manager Levy Mosenogi testified that they were afraid of Mahlangu when they tried to raise concerns about the dangers they see in the project.

Moseneke asked Makhura if he was aware that department employees were intimated by Mahlangu.

“Everybody who came here said they were steam rolled. In the meetings we had none of them said they were forced or intimidated by the MEC,” replied Makhura.

During her time on the stand, Mahlangu blamed Selebano and former director of mental health Dr Makgabo Manamela for misleading her during the project by assuring her that everything was going well.

Moseneke asked Makhura if Mahlangu reported this to him.

“I spoke to all of them in one sitting,none of them said anything about being misled or afraid,” he replied.

“Why did the MEC resign, was she was pushed or did she jump?” asked Moseneke.

Makhura said he always maintained that when something goes wrong in a person’s line of duty there will be consequences and Mahlangu said she will resign if needed.

Makhura explained that everyone should take individual  accountability for their role in the deadly project. He vowed to implement the recommendations of the health ombudsmen to rectify the deficiencies in the department.

In the beginning of his testimony, Makhura apologised to the families and promised to answer questions of what he knows and assured families that he won’t to shift blame.

“I am here to account as per the constitution…We know that apologising doesn’t mean a lot of there is no truth. I hope the families come closer to the truth…I will work with the families to pursue justice elsewhere,” he said.

Makhura’a testimony will be followed by current health MEC Gwen Ramokgopa and health minister Aaron Motsoaledi on Wednesday.

– African News Agency (ANA)