Life Esidimeni Group was left unfunded prior to move to new facilities, reveals former employee

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Former Gauteng Health Department Mental Health Director Dr Mmakgabo Manamela didn’t reply to funding requests by the Life Esidimeni Group prior to moving patients to other facilities. This is according to the testimony of former Life Esidimeni employee Nonceba Sennelo.

The 67-year-old told the inquest into the deaths of 144 Life Esidimeni psychiatric patients that they were denied funding and that no feedback was received to their requests.

The Life Esidimeni Group was left unfunded prior to allowing patients to move to new facilities. That’s according to Sennelo, who was speaking during cross-examination at the inquest.

She testified that Manamela didn’t reply to their funding requests. Sennelo said she was not aware of any feedback from the department with regard to possible funding. She was responding to cross-examination by Dr Manamela’s legal representative Advocate Ndivhoniswani Makhani.

“I was not aware of any feedback. And my problem was that there was nothing done because there were no funds for start-ups that were given afterward. So I did not get any report that funds are available or not. No feedback that she has signed or processed it. I even said I didn’t get any feedback that she did sign the letter or not.”

Sennelo was also questioned about some patients who appeared sickly during the transfer period. She conceded that some patients had to be taken to the hospital for further assessment before being transferred.

“When we were assessing them for transfer and based on the information we got, we could say this patient should go to the hospital like Stirkfontein Weskoppies or so. While some that were diagnosed with intellectual disability, we would recommend that they go Cullina NGO which gave the same level of care like Esidimeni.”

According to Sennelo, there were disagreements over the department’s relocation strategy for the patients. This after, conducting inspections at NGOs where conditions were found unbearable.

“As I have mentioned that after we’ve detected that there was a problem with the NGO’s Dr Manamela came up with a strategy which we must adopt. Which I objected in a sense that it’s a co-function of the district I will go provided that we go with the district. And we went to Precious and reported that conditions were appalling and we requested that it closed immediately.”

About 2000 psychiatric patients were transferred to ill-equipped and unlicensed facilities in 2016. 144 patients died. This after, the department ordered the shutting down of the Life Esidimeni Project in June 2016. Six of the 36 witnesses have already concluded their testimony.

The hearings continue.