Mahlangu regrets deaths of 144 mentally-ill patients, says ‘unfortunate, deeply regrettable’

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Former Gauteng Health MEC Qedani Mahlangu says the deaths of the 144 mentally-ill patients after being moved from Life Esidimeni facilities to ill-equipped NGOs are unfortunate and deeply regrettable.

Mahlangu has been giving evidence virtually in the Life Esidimeni Inquest being heard in the Pretoria High Court. She says the loss of lives is one of the most painful incidents in the history of health care in South Africa. She hopes her testimony before the inquest will help families find closure.

Mahlangu says the reason behind the removal of the patients was part of re-integrating them into communities to be part and parcel of society rather than leaving them locked up in institutions as per international best practice. She expressed her condolences to the families of the deceased patients.

The inquest aims to determine if anyone can be held criminally liable for the deaths of the patients during the June 2016 relocation.

Live proceedings of the inquest: 

‘Lion’s den’

Mahlangu says she broke down and cried when then Premier David Makhura announced he was appointing her as Health MEC in 2014. She says she was aware that she was, in her own words, going into a lion’s den.

The former Gauteng Health MEC says she found the Health Department’s finances in a precarious state when she first came in as Health MEC in 2009, and the situation had not improved when she was redeployed to the department in 2014.

Mahlangu says the department had been put under Section 8 of the Public Finance Management Act to be assisted by Treasury with extra resources.

The inquest has heard that Mahlangu was responsible for the removal of mentally-ill patients from Life Esidimeni and ended the contract with the facility citing budgetary constraints.