Former Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke on Tuesday said the ongoing arbitration hearing into the Life Esidimeni tragedy would not conclude without former Gauteng health MEC Qedani Mahlangu’s appearance to give her side of the story.
”Let me make it clear that these proceedings will not end until the three witnesses the [former health] MEC, and doctors [suspended HOD Barney] Selebano and [director of mental health Makgabo] Manamela, who took decisions on this mental health marathon project appear before this hearing … this hearing will not conclude until all three of them appear here,” said Moseneke.
‘We have talked about this in chambers and as far as I know, there are no differences between the parties specifically regarding these three witnesses for this hearing. We agreed that the parties will take necessary steps to subpoena the witnesses under the arbitration act, and that any impediments would be brought before me.”
Advocate Adil Hassam, who represents more than 50 families of the Esidimeni victims, said her clients were concerned that there was no sign of provincial health top bosses, three weeks into the hearing.
Evidence leader Patrick Ngutshane revealed that Mahlangu’s attorney had assisted in locating her in the United Kingdom, where she is reportedly furthering her studies. Mahlangu agreed to cooperate and would be available in November.
The beleaguered Mahlangu is widely blamed for the botched relocation of more than 3,000 former Life Esidimeni mental patients to unlicensed NGOs, where 141 of them died due to starvation and neglect. Fifty nine of the patients are still unaccounted for.
Last week, former Life Esidimeni manager Dr Morgan Mkhatshwa told the arbitration that he was left shocked when Mahlangu told him in one of the meetings that mental patients can "sleep under stoves as she did when she was growing up.”
“I got the shock of my life in one meeting when she told me there were no mental institutions in Brazil … and that she slept under a stove and so can the patients. I asked her what happened when the patients got aggressive … she said they got chained,” Mkhatshwa said.
In February, Gauteng Premier David Makhura suspended Selebano in the wake of recommendations by Health Ombudsman Malegapuru Makgoba.
Mahlangu tendered her resignation as the saga unfolded.
At the time, Makgoba’s report found that as many as 94 mentally ill patients who were transferred from Esidimeni to unlicensed care centres had died.
However, the death toll rose over time as more information was discovered by Makgoba, bringing the number of deaths to 118, and then 141.
Moseneke said Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi and Gauteng Premier David Makhura would also testify at the hearing.