Mahlangu claims she did not know of risk to Life Esidimeni project

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JOHANNESBURG, January 22 – Former Gauteng health MEC Qedani Mahlangu, who is widely blamed for the botched transfer of patients from a mental healthcare facility to unregistered non-governmental organisations in the South African province, leading to the deaths of 143 mentally ill patients, on Monday claimed ignorance of the risk the project posed.

“I never received information that the project was at risk, or that implementation of the project will threaten lives of the patients. In general I received constant positive reports,” Mahlangu said while testifying before arbitration hearings in Johannesburg.

While reading out a statement to the hearings, attended by the families of the victims, she distanced herself from the project. Instead, Mahlangu threw former head of mental health in the health department, Dr Barney Selebano, under the bus. She said and said the HOD was the final arbiter of the plan and was able to act without her approval.

Mahlangu said she had no reason to doubt the credibility of information given to her.

“I did not receive any initial reports about lack of food. I was told that patients were being removed from Life Esidimeni with only a week’s supply of medicine but otherwise, reports were positive,” she said.

Mahlangu said she never received complaints from families. She said she was the one who suggested to families that they start a family committee and even gave them her personal cellphone number for queries.

”I don’t remember receiving one phone call,” she said.

At this point some of the families present screamed “o maaka” Mahlangu (You are lying Mahlangu).”

“Again I want to say I was never informed of any major problems,” Mahlangu reiterated.

Earlier, Mahlangu started her testimony by reading from a statement she had prepared. This was unusual as other witnesses who came before her were led into evidence.

“Our health care system is meant to preserve and where possible, prolong human life…Clearly this did not go according to plan. For this I sincerely apologise,”

“To the families who lost their loved ones, I am deeply sorry for your loss and may their souls rest in peace,” she said.

Family members of those who died during the botched project started heckling.

“You’re lying,” they shouted.

Retired deputy chief justice Dikgang Moseneke, who is chairing the hearing, interjected and asked the families to calm down.

“The witness is entitled to some level of dignity. Allow her to speak,” he said.

Mahlangu said that the project had good intentions, and it was not the department’s plan for lives to be lost.

Mahlangu resigned her MEC position over the tragedy last year and was summonsed to the hearings while studying at the Global Banking School in Bedfordshire in the United Kingdom.

The school has since suspended Mahlangu citing the seriousness of allegations against her regarding the Life Esidimeni tragedy.

– African News Agency (ANA)