Health activism group Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) marched to the Gauteng Legislature on Tuesday morning to demand the removal of former health MECs and current members of the provincial legislature, Qedani Mahlangu and Brian Hlongwa. Mahlangu, the former Gauteng member of the executive committee (MEC) for health and social development, resigned over her role in the deaths of 144 psychiatric patients in the Life Esidimeni tragedy, while Hlongwa is accused of facilitating corruption amounting to about R1.2bn within the Gauteng health department during his tenure.
Hlongwa and Mahlangu must be sent to jail for their role in the corrupt activities that almost collapsed the Gauteng Health Department. Pretoria News reports that this is according to the TAC, which protested against the pair’s appointment to the ANC provincial executive committee (PEC). The report says the TAC members marched to the Gauteng provincial legislature demanding that Mahlangu and Hlongwa be booted out of the PEC. Proceedings inside the legislature were adjourned when the protesters arrived at the House.
Democratic Allinace (DA) health spokesperson Jack Bloom said it had been a long fight in trying to hold the two accountable. “It has been over 10 years asking that Brian Hlongwa be charged for his role in collapsing the health system.”
Mahlangu resigned following the deaths of 144 psychiatric patients in the Life Esidimeni tragedy and, the report says, Hlongwa is accused of facilitating corruption amounting to R1.2bn in the Gauteng Health Department during his tenure. Despite controversy surrounding the two, they were re-elected into the ANC PEC last month.
“It is now 47 days since the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) report was made public that implicates Hlongwa in massive corruption, but he has still not been fired, Bloom said. “How many more days before he is removed from the Gauteng Legislature and faces trial in court?”
TAC national chair Sibongile Tshabalala said Premier David Makhura had shown disrespect in not meeting the protesters. “If the ANC wants our votes next year, they need to listen to taxpayers. Minister (Aaron) Motsoaledi must know that he is not immune to our protests. He cannot keep on saying he cannot make any decisions on provincial departments. He needs to take responsibility,” Tshabalala said.
Catching wind of the protests outside, opposition parties came out in their numbers to support the TAC after they refused to leave the Gauteng legislature until Makhura addressed them. “We are told David Makhura is not in the building and (speaker of the Gauteng legislature) Ntombi Mekgwe does not want to come out and address us. We are not leaving until they come out and address us,” News24 reports Tshabala told the marchers.
Bloom thanked the marchers for bringing attention to corruption which he said he had been trying to expose 10 years ago in the legislature. “This has been a very long fight, but I think we are going to achieve something. This has gone on for 10 years where some of the most unbelievable corruption has taken place at the Gauteng Health Department and I raised it in the legislature,” Bloom told marchers.
Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) Gauteng chair Mandisa Mashego also joined and commended the TAC for its bold action. “If it was not for you, the SIU report would have never been made public. Your government knew of this report two years ago, but former president Jacob Zuma held on to it for political leverage but his mission failed. These are the types of NGOs that we need in Gauteng,” Mashego said.
The report says Mekgwe eventually came out to receive and sign the memorandum on behalf of the legislature. “I am committed and will sign on behalf of the legislature and wish to clarify that the letter I received from the TAC about the march did not request the presence of the premier,” she told the marchers.
The TAC called on Makhura to “do the right thing” or risk losing votes in the upcoming elections.
According to an Eyewitness News report, Corruption Watch and the TAC say Hlongwa and Mahlangu must be removed from office because they have contributed to the failures in the health system.
They say both should be criminally charged, prosecuted and jailed for gross negligence.
The two organisations have warned that if their demands are not taken seriously by the Department of Health they will protest in much larger numbers.
The TAC called on Mekgwe to schedule a debate on Hlongwa, who is facing allegations of corruption regarding kickbacks allegedly paid by companies that did business with the provincial health department during his tenure as health MEC. The Citizen reports that the TAC further demanded that Hlongwa must account for R1.2bn allegedly fraudulently spent to build a mansion for him in Bryanston, north of Johannesburg. The fraud was uncovered by the SIU which found that companies doing business with the health department allegedly paid kickbacks to Hlongwa and some department officials.
Hlongwa had repeatedly denied any wrongdoing but that did not stop the opposition parties and civil society from pursuing the matter. The ANC blamed the delay on Hlongwa’s matter on the party’s Integrity Committee which had been dealing with the issue for four years without any progress.
Meanwhile, the report says, the EFF in Gauteng last year laid murder charges against Mahlangu for the Esidimeni deaths. The party said it had also written to the NPA asking it to speed up its prosecution on the matter.
The EFF’s Mashego is quoted in the report as saying that the party has asked the National Prosecuting Authority to speed up the prosecution of Mahlangu for the death of 144 Life Esidimeni mental patients. She said they would approach the Hawks both in the province and nationally to investigate several incidents of corruption the party had found in Gauteng.
Freedom Front Plus MPL, Philip Van Staden said his party won’t rest until Mahlangu and Hlongwa were put behind bars.
Gauteng TAC provincial chair, Fikile Mtsweni, who read the memorandum, said people always waited for hours and even days to access health services while healthcare workers were overstretched. “Hospitals are in shambles, patients are found sleeping on the corridor floors and ambulances are scarce and unreliable. The dysfunction in Gauteng is claiming lives and leading to widespread suffering. We have had enough of these daily indignities, former health MEC Brian Hlongwa and Qedani Mahlangu must be held accountable for their failings,” Mtsweni said.
The organisation said that Hlongwa and Mahlangu were elected into leadership positions in the Gauteng ANC was indicative that the ANC did not care about the plight of the people who suffered under these politicians. It demanded an urgent turn-around of the collapsed health system in the province.