Telling empowering stories, South Africans want to hear

Wednesday, 10 July 2024 13:55

Court rules Life Esidimeni deaths were due to former health MEC Mahlangu's negligence.

By Lehlohonolo Lehana.

The Pretoria high court has ruled that the deaths of some of the mental health patients transferred to ill-prepared nongovernmental organisations from Life Esidimeni were a result of the negligence of former Gauteng health MEC Qedani Mahlangu.

In 2016, 144 people at psychiatric facilities in Gauteng died from starvation and neglect when they were moved from the Life Esidimeni facility to unlicensed and unprepared NGOs.

The tragedy has been described as one of the biggest human rights violations in the country.

The Life Esidimeni inquest investigated the deaths of just over 140 mental health patients to determine if anyone can be held criminally liable for the 2016 tragedy.

The inquest started in July 2021 and concluded towards the end of 2023.

The patients died following their relocation, which was a result of the termination of a contract in October 2015, from the Life Esidimeni facilities to various NGOs.

Judge Mmonoa Teffo delivered her findings into the Life Esidimeni inquest on Wednesday.

Teffo ruled that Mahlangu and former director of Gauteng's mental health services, Dr Makgabo Manamela were responsible for the deaths of nine patients.

"Ms Mahlangu proceeded to terminate the contract between the Life Esidimeni Care Centre and the Gauteng Department of Health despite numerous expert advice and warnings from the professionals in mental health.

The deceased were further moved out the Life Esidimeni facilities to NGOs which were not equipped and inexperienced to give proper and adequate care in providing the requisite mental health care," she said on Wednesday.

The judge emphasised that the deaths could have been avoided.

"In respect of Dr Makgabo Manamela, she proceeded to hastily facilitate the implantation of the termination plan against expert advice from professionals and stakeholders.

"She could have saved many lives as she visited the NGOs and could see that they were not adequately equipped and some of the personnel were not adequately qualified to care for the mental health care users," Teffo continued.

She noted that some of the NGOs were tasked with caring for patients despite not following the prescribed protocols.

"Effectively, Ms Qedani Mahlangu and Dr Makgabo Manamela created the circumstances in which the deaths were inevitable."

Civil Rights Group Section27's executive director Sasha Stevens said in October last year that it wants Mahlangu, and Manamela and the owner of Precious Angels NGO, Ethel Ncube, to be charged with culpable homicide for their involvement in the tragedy.

Stevens believes the conduct of the three officials caused the deaths of patients.

"Mahlangu made the initial decision to terminate the Life Esidimeni contract. She then continued to make a series of reckless decisions in relation to the project for months while chairing project team meetings".

According to a report by former Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke, 144 people died and 44 others were missing; while 1 418 of the transferred patients survived.

Moseneke, who sat on the Life Esidimeni arbitration hearings in 2017, ordered the Gauteng Department of Health to pay the victims' families R1 million each as compensation.

A 2017 South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) report also highlighted how mental health care in the country was stigmatised, with facilities lacking resources and technical capacity.

Meanwhile, Gauteng premier Panyaza Lesufi said the province fully accepts the judgment on the Life Esidimeni tragedy.

"We are pleased this process is nearing its end. … It brought so much pain and suffering to those who lost their loved ones. As well as the survivors whose human rights were grossly violated by this tragedy. This judgement closes a painful chapter. Not only for the affected families, but for us as the Gauteng provincial government," said Lesufi.

He went on to say that the provincial government sympathises with the bereaved and affected families.

"We understands that the Life Esidimeni inquest was incredibly important. …It was important for families to find closure and for accountability," Lesufi added.