Former Gauteng Health MEC ignored experts’ advice during Life Esidimeni relocation, court hears

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The High Court in Pretoria has heard that former Gauteng Health MEC Qedani Mahlangu ignored experts’ advice during the relocation of over 3 000 mental health patients from the Life Esidimeni facilities.

The patients were moved to unlicensed and ill-equipped NGOs.

The inquest is probing the deaths of 144 mental health patients who died during the June 2016 marathon relocation from the Life Esidimeni facilities to ill-equipped and unregistered NGOs.

Former director of the Gauteng mental health services, Dr Mmakgabo Manamela testified during cross-examination that her former boss, MEC Qedani Mahlangu ordered the relocation of the patients even though some NGOs were not ready to accommodate them.

“The first one that I can say I see the MEC acknowledged is that we don’t have enough beds at the NGOs and another thing, people were trying to advise but she carried on. She was also aware of the policy framework that indicated that the community-based services are not yet all developed to the point that we needed them. She was also advised about the warnings by the professionals.”

Manamela says her team was overwhelmed with fear and forced to re-double their efforts in relocating mental health patients. This after former Health MEC, Mahlangu made it clear that the Life Esidimeni facilities had to shut citing budgetary constraints. Manamela had been testifying since Monday.

“The people or project team members were scared of her. And then it was also indicated that she was the driver. I would agree with that because in the meeting she will there’s turning back. So that means we had to work hard and that.”

According to Manamela at times decisions about the relocation of patients and the closing down of the Life Esidimeni project were taken without proper consultation with other role players.

“That’s when around June I heard over the media that they will be terminated when the MEC presented the budget speech. That was now 2015, my Lady.”

She says this had a negative impact on the patients and their caregivers among others.

“When we had the news it meant we must leave our plan and start anew. And what was this going to have on the patients, staff and families? It also meant everyone must vacate Life Esidimeni. We had to look for new NGOs. We had to look at the old NGOs so that they be ready to accommodate the other patients.”

The hearings have been adjourned until 7th November when Manamela will conclude her testimony. This will then pave way for the inquest to listen to the testimony of former health MEC Mahlangu. Soq.