FROM HERO TO ZERO
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.