Life Esidimeni Inquest adjourned until Monday

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The legal representative of one of the former employees of the Gauteng Health Department, Dr Sophia Lenkwane, has asked the high court in Pretoria to exonerate her from any wrongdoing or pursue any criminal charges against her.

Lenkwane was part of the team that facilitated the relocation of over 3 000 mental health users from the Life Esidimeni facilities in 2016. This is after it was shut down by former Health MEC Qedani Mahlangu due to budget cuts.

The inquest that resumed this week aims to determine if anyone can be held criminally liable for the deaths of the 144 patients. Most of them died of hunger, dehydration, and stress-related complications during the relocation from the Life Esidimeni in June 2016.

Life Esidimeni tragedy leaves many shocked, embarrassed: 30 December 2017:

Lenkwane’s legal representative Advocate Lerato Maite says her client has been a credible witness throughout the inquest. She argues that her client does not deserve to be punished.

“Can I indicate to your ladyship that Dr Likwana has been a credible witness and she has provided the information that was required? What is obvious from the evidence is that there has been no legal or factual position that has been attributable to any of her conduct in respect to the demise of Mental Health Users (patients). With that being the essential question that has to be responded to by this court. I will implore to you not to find that Dr Linkwana be held liable for any demise that might have occurred through her conduct whether by omission or commission.”

But for some like Ethel Ncube, the owner of Precious Angels NGO who is being accused of negligence and for disregarding the needs of her patients, the law must take its course. Advocate Nasreen Rajab-Budlender, representing the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) and 44 families of the deceased patients, made reference to the evidence brought before the court, by witnesses who testified about the first patient’s death that occurred at the NGO.

“It was just not an appropriate facility for that. Ms Ncube was told about Mr. Magoba’s condition, but she failed to take him to the hospital for necessary treatment. Mr Mogoba’s wait was significant and his wheelchair was taken on arrival to the NGO. So he was not mobile anyway. What then happened he was found cold and pronounced dead. He was the first patient to die there only two weeks after his transfer.”

She wants the court to hold Ncube accountable for the deaths of the patients. 18 patients died at the Precious Angels NGO which received R1 million payout from the provincial government to take care of the patients.

Rajab-Budlender argues that Ncube must be criminally charged. “Ms Ncube kept on taking mental users even after her first patient died in her facility. And she may not contend that she was put in this situation. And that her conduct was not responsible for the deaths of the mental health patients. We submit that she is prima facie liable for deaths of the users (patients), here we mean the ones who were at the Princess Angels.”

Civil society movement Section 27 and AfriForum have asked the court to hold former Gauteng Health MEC Qedane Mahlangu criminally liable for the deaths.  She terminated the Life Esidimeni contract in 2016, citing budgetary constraints, something she could not prove during her evidence-in-chief.

The inquest will resume on Monday.