I am deeply sorry: Mahlangu
Former Gauteng MEC Qedani Mahlangu apology rejected by families
FORMER Gauteng MEC for Health Qedani Mahlangu has apologised to the families of mentally ill patients who died because of being from Life Esidimeni to ill-equipped NGO’s.
Testifying at the Life Esidimeni arbitration hearings on Monday, Mahlangu offered an olive branch to the families but her apology was met by howls.
“I know that we may not bring them back but for what is worth I am really really sorry. I am deeply sorry for your loss.
“And May their souls rest in peace,” she told the hearing.
At least 143 mentally ill patients died when the Gauteng Department of Health, under Mahlangu’s leadership, decided to move them from Life Esidimeni facilities into unlicensed and ill-equipped NGOs.
She told the hearing that she did not know that there were challenges with the project of moving patients. Mahlangu added that no one had anticipated that the patients would die once they were moved to the NGO’s.
“I don’t think anybody planned that people are going to die or be killed,” she said.
Mahlangu further refused to shoulder the blame for what happened. She said it would be misleading the nation to say that she had terminated the contract with Life Esidimeni and put the Gauteng Mental Health Marathon Project into action. She said the blame should go to the entire unit responsible for the move.
“The decision to terminate was not an individual decision,” she said.
Despite that, Mahlangu added that her senior team gave her half-baked truths and were not forthcoming with the real situation of the move.
“During the initial phase of the project, I was given assurance that the implementation of the project [was going well except for] a few teething problems. Problems such as food, linen and other problems were not presented to the meeting except the issue of lack of supply of medication. I didn’t have any reason not to believe the information received consistently. You work with people on the basis of trust. Not doing so will not allow for a collegial working relationship. I had the full confidence in the managers and professional expertise,”Mahlangu said.
She was asked to provide the names of the individuals who were supplying her with inaccurate information.
“HOD Dr Barney Selebano, Dr Lebethe, who is the DDG of clinical services, Mr Mosenogi, who is the chief director for planning, Dr Manamela [the] mental director,” she said.
Selebano and Manamela have since resigned from their positions.
Mahlangu told the hearing that she became aware of the challenges in July 2016 when a journalist kept asking her question regarding the project. She said the first key challenge to be brought to her was a shortage of food at an NGO in Cullinan, it was 3rd of July 2016 late in the evening.
“I got concerned that this journalist kept asking me things, and I realised that whatever I was answering I might not have the full information. The media person informed me of the problems, and we spoke to the HOD. I only found afterwards there were problems with payments.
“The issue of food and other challenges I also got to know about them in the media, and we intervened. The issues were brought to Dr Manamela, and I was not aware of them at all. I encouraged people to call me,” said Mahlangu.
She was quizzed by Judge Dikgang Moseneke on how
143 patients lost their lives in circumstances she seemed unaware of in a department she headed. She said during the time, she was totally unaware of patients that were dying.
“I received a question from the legislature. In less than 24 hours, I asked Prof Makgoba to help the department investigate the circumstances under which the 36 people died. I also had a meeting with Minister Aaron Motsoaledi about the Nelson Mandela Children Hospital, and I told him that the ombudsman was not prepared to help me.”
She said once she discovered more patients had died, she also found that the level of trust had “degenerated” and there were problems in the team.
The marathon project involved moving psychiatric patients from Life Esidimeni to various ill-equipped NGOs across the province after the health department terminated its contract with the facility.
This resulted in the death of more than 140 patients due to dehydration and malnutrition, among other reasons listed by Health Ombudsman Malegapuru Makgoba.
Mahlangu said the loss of life was regrettable as the healthcare system was supposed to prolong human life.
“The death is painful and regrettable, and I want to express my sincere condolences following the termination, including the removal of mental health patients from Life Esidimeni life healthcare facilities,” she said.
Former Gauteng MEC Qedani Mahlangu