Dr Richard Lebethe told the Life Esidimeni inquest that some patients died from strokes or other natural causes, after they were transferred to NGOs.

The inquest is considering whether anyone can be held criminally liable for the deaths of the 144 mentally ill patients.

Lebethe was a senior official at the Gauteng Health Department in 2016.

Lebethe faced a barrage of questions regarding his role in the transfer of mental healthcare patients from Life Esidimeni to other facilities.

Earlier, witness Zanele Buthelezi testified that the department deviated from the initial list that provided guidelines on the condition of the patients before they could be transferred.

Life Esidimeni Inquest into the death of 144 patients continues:

Lebethe was answering questions from evidence leader, Peter Luyt and Buthelezi’s lawyer, Advocate Harry van Bergen.

Lawyers: “Did you play any active role: Dr Lebethe: I didn’t play any active role as I did not attend most of the project team’s meetings. This in fact based on the position that I held which was forever a busy position.”

Lebethe shed some light on his visits to various NGOs prior to and during the transfer of patients. According to his evidence, some NGOs were not appropriate for mentally ill patients.

“About the area not being appropriate is because it was located in a mountainous area. It’s an elevated area with a lot of stairs if you need to go into the house. It was good for the types of beds that they were using. And that’s the one in Atteridgeville.”

The inquest wanted to hear from Lebethe how mental health patients died while at the facilities. He said some died of natural causes.

“The natural development of diseases that had all along has the possibility of causing death, haemorrhagic induction. This means they could’ve had a stroke resulting in a lack of blood around the areas in which that bleeding has happened. And it’s on those bases that it’s referred as haemorrhagic or a natural cause of death.”

However, evidence leaders were not satisfied with his response.

Evidence leader says: “Well, let me rephrase, did you ever during or after the discharge stage receive any complaints be it from staff or department about Life Esidimeni during that process.”

Dr Lebethe: “No I didn’t.”

Evidence leader: “My lady let me take some instruction?”

Judge: “Yes you may do so.”