People working with former Gauteng Health MEC Qedani Mahlangu were afraid of disagreeing with her, testified Levy Mosenogi, the manager of the Life Esidimeni Marathon Project, at the ongoing Life Esidimeni inquest.
People “working close with her”, were particularly afraid of Mahlangu, since she was was “boisterous … a very strong leader, so some people might think she is arrogant”, said Mosenogi at last Thursday’s (18 November) sitting of the inquest into the deaths of at least 144 mental health patients in 2016, according to a Daily Maverick report.
“As a senior manager I would also sometimes differ with her, but you take your chances, when you differ with the MEC you have to have your facts,” he said.
Advocate Russell Sibara, legal counsel for the former Gauteng director of mental health services, Dr Makgabo Manamela, asked Mosenogi to clarify what he meant by that: Mosenogi answered that one had to stand their ground, “otherwise it becomes difficult for you”.
He added that the clinicians who warned against the moving of mental healthcare patients were working directly with Manamela, “so they would have their own mental health meeting”.
Sibara asked Mosenogi why he didn’t ask Mahlangu to reverse her decision about the transfer of mental health patients from the Life Esidimeni facility to local NGOs.
“In a way I think my approach was going to do the same thing, because I was saying, let’s extend this thing, let’s do it in phases, let’s buy one of the two facilities. So in a way I was saying, let’s consider other options rather than closing,” answered Mosenogi.
Sibara then asked if he had the powers to do that. Mosenogi responded, “If I had the powers, I would have done that.” He said there were not enough beds in the Johannesburg district to cater to the patients who were to be transferred, adds the Daily Maverick.
“The beds that were planned were projected, they were not actual beds and if you looked at Johannesburg there was not much space for additional beds, that’s why most of the people were directed to Tshwane.”
When asked by Sibara if he knew that Manamela was also afraid of Mahlangu, Mosenogi replied, “Yes, she was nervous all the time.”
Mosenogi testified that the transfer of patients was a departmental decision. “In my opinion, she was implementing what has already been decided and I worked with her. In my opinion she did not contribute to the deaths, but that will be for the court to decide.”
According to the testimony of Gauteng mental health deputy director Nonceba Sennelo, senior health officials failed to take action when alerted to the inadequacy of a facility to which the patients were moved. Sennelo was referring to the condition at the Precious Angels facility.
“We visited Precious Angels in July and the placement was done in June, but by that time there were no deaths reported… we found the place was not right and we immediately alerted our supervisor (Manamela), who sent someone to go and verify, and we recommended that place be closed immediately and patients be transferred,” Sennelo.
Describing Precious Angels, Sennelo said: “It was a small house, and the patients were 18 in there, basically a four-roomed house and adult patients were sleeping in cots… and there were stairs and everything, it was really not safe for them and it was not well kept.”
Advocate Teneille Govender, counsel for Mahlangu, told the inquest Mahlangu would testify that “she never received unfavourable reports”.
Referring to testimony that Precious Angels was not suitable for patients, Govender said, “That never found its way into a report tabled to the MEC.”
In response, Sennelo said, “We had written reports to Dr Manamela so we are not sure whether those reports went to the MEC.” Sennelo testified that when she followed up with Manamela on the issues, Manamela responded: “The MEC doesn’t want problems, she wants solutions.”
The inquest resumes this Friday (26 November).
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