Shock­ing tes­ti­mony, but ex-MEC not among wit­nesses

The Star Early Edition - - NEWS - TEBOGO MONAMA tebogo.monama@inl.co.za

DEPART­MENT of Health di­rec­tor-gen­eral Pre­cious Mat­soso has joined the long list of those sur­prised that for­mer Gauteng MEC Qedani Mahlangu is not among the wit­nesses tes­ti­fy­ing at the Life Esidi­meni in­quiry.

Ques­tioned by the fam­i­lies’ le­gal rep­re­sen­ta­tive, Dirk Groe­newald, on whether Mahlangu’s res­ig­na­tion was enough ac­count­abil­ity, Mat­soso said it wasn’t.

Groe­newald asked: “Is mere res­ig­na­tion a day or two be­fore a dev­as­tat­ing ac­count suf­fi­cient to atone?”

Mat­soso re­sponded that she would have thought Mahlangu would be part of the three-week al­ter­na­tive dis­pute res­o­lu­tion hear­ings. “I would have thought that par­tic­u­lar in­di­vid­ual would be here to ac­count. Some of the ques­tions posed here even I can’t an­swer.

“She should be part of this process and she should also be sub­jected, like oth­ers, to the full might of the law,” Mat­soso added.

Mahlangu re­signed af­ter the re­lease of the damn­ing re­port by health om­buds­man Pro­fes­sor Male­ga­puru Mak­goba into the deaths of more than 100 psy­chi­atric pa­tients moved from Life Esidi­meni fa­cil­i­ties to NGOs, some of which were not reg­is­tered.

Psy­chi­atric pa­tients died from star­va­tion and ne­glect dur­ing the move, which was part of the Gauteng Health Depart­ment’s cost-cut­ting mea­sures.

Mahlangu is also not part of the state wit­ness list, but Sec­tion 27 have in­di­cated they want her to ap­pear be­fore re­tired deputy chief jus­tice Dik­gang Moseneke, who is head­ing the ar­bi­tra­tion process.

Mat­soso said the num­ber of pa­tients who have died might be as high as 118 and not 110 as Mak­goba’s re­port had found. She said that so far, there were 59 pa­tients who had been re­leased from hospi­tals and NGOs who the depart­ment couldn’t trace.

Mat­soso said they were alive be­cause they were still draw­ing their dis­abil­ity grants. There were also seven dead peo­ple still un­ac­counted for, she added.

On the fourth day of the hear­ings, an emo­tional Mat­soso de­scribed the ter­ri­ble con­di­tions the pa­tients had lived in. She said one fa­cil­ity she vis­ited in Cen­tu­rion was pre­vi­ously a horse sta­ble.

She said that when the depart­ment went to in­ves­ti­gate other fa­cil­i­ties in At­teridgeville and Danville, they found they had been turned into stu­dent ac­com­mo­da­tion.

“They were not a safe en­vi­ron­ment for peo­ple with men­tal health chal­lenges. The in­fra­struc­ture was not suit­able for men­tal health pa­tients,” she said.

In Saulsville, Pre­to­ria, Mat­soso and depart­ment of­fi­cials went to a mor­tu­ary that turned out to be an old butch­ery. Hold­ing back tears, she said: “One of the fam­ily mem­bers knows the area, and when she was told where her rel­a­tive was, she said it was a butch­ery.

“That’s why I de­cided to go and see for my­self. When I got there I found it had been a butch­ery. There was a bot­tle store next door,” Mat­soso said.

She said that af­ter strug­gling to gain ac­cess to the build­ing be­cause the owner de­manded a search war­rant, she found the mor­tu­ary called Put You to Rest had nine corpses, but none were of Life Esidi­meni pa­tients.

She said the mor­tu­ary didn’t have fa­cil­i­ties to store hu­man corpses.

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