Former Gauteng Health MEC Qedani Mahlangu has criticised ‘false’ media reports about her avoiding a subpoena to appear before the Esidimeni arbitration hearing.
Former Gauteng Health MEC Qedani Mahlangu says she notes with concern that several media reports which are regularly surfacing in the country about her, are false and without basis in fact. “First, it is completely false that I refuse or ran away or disappeared from the Esidimeni arbitration. From the beginning, in line with my conscience, I have made it clear to all authorities involved that I’m available to appear before the arbitration. As such, I need no subpoena,” she is quoted in an Eyewitness News report as saying.
“Secondly, anyone who knows how universities work, know that planning and applying for study, happens long before one can travel to the institution concerned, and therefore the suggestion that I used my studies to escape accountability is also false.
“Thirdly, it is clear that these inaccurate reports seek to suggest that I’m not committed to principles of accountability, transparency and openness. As such, the reports are written in such a way that as a supposed ‘fugitive’ of sorts, I must be subjected to an arbitration of public opinion, ahead of the formal arbitration process. Nobody else has been subjected to this kind of treatment.
“Fourthly, I wish to reserve my rights to comment on the falsehoods around my studies except to say, these reports say a lot about our quality of journalism in our country than Qedani.
“Finally, I hope journalists and media houses report in such a manner that shows respect and sensitivity to the arbitration process so that the dignity of the families and the victims is upheld at all times.”
According to the report, Mahlangu added that she has always maintained that she’s willing to appear before the arbitration, saying that she has confidence in the process.
It was earlier reported that lawyers representing Mahlangu appeared before the Esidimeni arbitration hearings to let families know that she has committed herself to giving testimony from 22 to 26 January.
The report says Mahlangu is a key witness, given that she signed off on the Esidimeni project which resulted in more than 100 mentally ill patients losing their lives. She and other Gauteng government officials moved the patients to ill-equipped NGOs where they died of hunger and starvation.
Mahlangu had been subpoenaed to appear before the arbitration hearing in December but it emerged that tracing her to serve the subpoena had been a challenge, says an IoL report. “The only difficulty is on her whereabouts … her attorneys have been requested to provide her formal address to ensure delivery of the subpoena,” an attorney for the state, Tebogo Hutamo had previously told the arbitration.
The report says the announcement that the former MEC of Health was only willing to appear in late January was met with anger from the families, who demanded to know why she was unable to appear at an earlier date. Finally, after a bit of back and forth, the date was set and confirmed by all parties.
Suspended Gauteng Health Department head Tiego Ephraim Selebano has, meanwhile, gone to court over a subpoena requesting him to appear at the arbitration hearings next month. News24 reports that Selebano wants the South Gauteng High Court in Johannesburg to set aside the subpoena and has claimed in papers filed that he feared incriminating himself. The application was lodged against Gauteng Premier David Makhura and Gwen Ramakgopa, who issued the subpoena requesting him to appear before Justice Dikgang Moseneke on 4 December.
Selebano believes that the issuing of the subpoena was an abuse of court process because “I am not being called as a witness to give evidence relating to any dispute between the parties, but purely because the parties wish to interrogate me regarding my role in the Deinstitutionalisation Project“.
The report says, explaining the Deinstitutionalisation Project, Selebano said, prior to 2015, a number of mental health patients were in the care of the Life Healthcare Esidimeni Hospitals, which were paid for by the Department of Health. “In February 2015 a decision was taken by the member of the executive committee for health in Gauteng, Ms Qedani Dorothy Mahlangu, to deinstitutionalise mental health care at LHEH.”
Selebano said, while he was the head, he had little to do with the day-to-day implementation of the project because then MEC, Qedani Mahlangu, had established a separate team to spearhead the project, led by Levy Mosenogi.
He said the project was implemented as planned until Mahlangu established a Project Marathon Team, which fast-tracked the process from May 2016 to complete it within six months instead of the initial intention to deinstitutionalise approximately 20% of the patients per year over a period of five years. “It was apparently primarily a result of the fast-tracking of the Deinstitutionalisation Project of mental health care patients sadly passed away,” he said.
Subsequently, Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi appointed an ombudsman (Malegapuru Makgoba) to investigate the circumstances surrounding the deaths. On 1 February, Makgoba published his report and Selebano appealed Makgoba’s findings.
Salebona said: “I had lodged an appeal against the findings of the ombud insofar as they relate to me, and that I did not accept correctness of those findings. The Gauteng Department of Health has instituted disciplinary proceedings against me, seeking my dismissal, and that these proceedings are still pending. Any evidence given by me could be used against me in my disciplinary proceedings, and there was no undertaking to do so.”
Selebano said he had been advised not to appear as a witness before the arbitration process until his appeal against Makgoba’s report and disciplinary hearings had been finalised as this would prejudice his rights in these matters.
He said there was no legitimate purpose in seeking to subpoena him. He said he instructed his attorneys to seek urgent relief in the High Court to set aside any subpoena on the basis that it was improperly sought and granted. “And that it is vexatious and amounts to the abuse of court.”
The report says Selebano’s attorneys at Ramsey Webber declined to comment on the matter as it was still pending before court.
Spokesperson for the office of the premier, Thabo Masebe, said the office of the premier and the Department of Health intended opposing Selebano’s application and would file their papers soon.
The respondents have until 17 November to file affidavits if they intend to oppose the application. The application is expected to be heard on 28 November, the report says.
Selebano, who said he would fall on his sword for his role in the Esidimeni tragedy, believes he will become the victim of a blame game if he testifies, reports The Times. “It is plain that the predominant, if not sole purpose of summoning me to the hearing is to question me on my role … and in doing so to attach blame.”
Also, he argues that the hearings before Moseneke are technically not arbitration hearings, but rather a commission of inquiry; thus there is no lawful basis to subpoena him.
But, the report says, a man representing the families said they very upset at the turn of events. “That’s such an insult to the process. It shows someone who is obstinate. People have been wronged here. Evil has been done. And here is someone fighting the course of justice. Let me say something to him – justice will always prevail.”