FROM HERO TO ZERO

CityPress - - News - by Ra­pule Ta­bane

When Qedani Mahlangu ar­rived in Gaut­eng from Par­lia­ment to as­sume the role of MEC for lo­cal govern­ment in 2004, ex­cited politi­cians in the prov­ince alerted po­lit­i­cal re­porters to the “young lion” who they said would in­ject life into the ad­min­is­tra­tion. But 12 years later, the for­mer ANC youth league mem­ber leaves in ig­nominy, although she per­son­ally feels un­fairly per­se­cuted. This week, sev­eral or­gan­i­sa­tions were bay­ing for her blood over the deaths of 94 men­tally ill pa­tients. While she con­sid­ers the is­sue closed and is prepar­ing to move on with her life, sev­eral NGOs have laid charges against her, want­ing her to be held crim­i­nally li­able. They feel that it is not enough for her to be held po­lit­i­cally re­spon­si­ble, they want her to be held per­son­ally li­able as well. Mahlangu, orig­i­nally from Bethal in Mpumalanga, has been cas­ti­gated for be­ing deter­mined to ter­mi­nate the prov­ince’s con­tract with Life Esidimeni Hospi­tal at all costs. The depart­ment was pay­ing the in­sti­tu­tion R320 mil­lion per year for the treat­ment of pa­tients with psy­chi­atric dis­or­ders. She is mainly faulted for in­sist­ing on mov­ing pa­tients to new fa­cil­i­ties be­fore en­sur­ing that the fa­cil­i­ties were ready, and for not al­low­ing enough time for the trans­fer of pa­tients. Part of a re­port into the mat­ter, writ­ten by Health Om­buds­man Male­ga­puru Mak­goba reads: “The MEC is al­leged by many to have said her ‘decision was fi­nal and non-ne­go­tiable and the project had to be done’. She left no room for en­gage­ment”. But Mak­goba told re­porters that Mahlangu said she was guided by of­fi­cials and would not have taken the decision if she had known it would have such reper­cus­sions. A for­mer staff mem­ber told City Press that they had been warned that some of them were be­hav­ing as if they were spokesper­sons for Life Eside­meni when they raised con­cerns. An­other for­mer staff mem­ber said the pub­lic had for­got­ten that in 2010, the same Mahlangu had over­seen the process of clos­ing down TB hos­pi­tals in Gaut­eng and even then there was chaos. He said clearly the lessons had not been learnt. A se­nior govern­ment of­fi­cial who in­ter­acted closely with Mahlangu de­scribed her as hard­work­ing, coura­geous, en­er­getic and deter­mined. “Once she sets out to do some­thing, she won’t stop. But that can also be a weak­ness as it may lead to ar­ro­gance.” He said min­is­ters and the MEC were in­clined to take a hard line to­wards civil so­ci­ety groups: “They feel NGOs can­not [be al­lowed to] tell us how to run govern­ment”. Her crit­ics have pro­vided a let­ter she wrote to the Gaut­eng Gam­bling Board in 2011, when the Board did not want to use the of­fices she had al­lo­cated to them as an ex­am­ple of her high­hand­ed­ness. At that time she was the MEC for eco­nomic devel­op­ment. “I sense that you want to use ev­ery trick in the book not to move of­fices. May I sug­gest that you speed [up] the process of mov­ing be­fore I lose my cool with you. The board has no role nor re­spon­si­bil­ity on this mat­ter and if they want to get in­volved in ad­min work I will re­move all of the board ASAP. If you have se­ri­ous prob­lems with my decision, please ten­der your res­ig­na­tion with im­me­di­ate ef­fect. I want to re­mind you that I am not here to be liked but to use state re­sources op­ti­mally.” But peo­ple close to Mahlangu say she feels her con­science is clear. Hav­ing ob­tained an un­qual­i­fied au­dit for the first time last year and lift­ing the health depart­ment out of the fi­nan­cial mess it was in for years, she is sat­is­fied that “her work speaks for it­self”. De­spite re­sign­ing as MEC and MPL, she re­mains a mem­ber of the pro­vin­cial ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee. A hard worker and key fundraiser for the ANC, she is at the heart of ev­ery elec­tion cam­paign. She is re­garded as close to the core pro­vin­cial lead­er­ship un­der chair­per­son Paul Mashatile. Many are wait­ing to see if she will res­ur­rect her ca­reer in a dif­fer­ent guise else­where in govern­ment. No one knows for sure, but she has told her in­ner cir­cle that with a mas­ter’s de­gree in fi­nance from the Univer­sity of Lon­don, she could now pur­sue her PhD.

Qedani Mahlangu

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