Tuesday, 25 June, 2024
HomeMedico-LegalR77m legal fees for Life Esidimeni inquest, and counting

R77m legal fees for Life Esidimeni inquest, and counting

The inquest into the Life Esidimeni tragedy, which began in July 2021, has been a gruelling, traumatic business, during which time the families of those who died have suffered the torment of reliving the pain of loss as witness after witness takes the stand to explain events that led to the death of 144 mental healthcare patients.

It’s also, reports Maverick Citizen, been a costly process, with the State Attorney in Pretoria having “disbursed a total amount of R77.358.741.31 for the inquest” so far.

Maverick Citizen put the following questions to the Gauteng Department of Health (GDoH), the Office of the Gauteng Premier and the Office of the State Attorney:

• Is the GDoH/Office of the Gauteng Premier/Office of the State Attorney paying the legal costs for the following witnesses: Qedani Mahlangu, Dr Makgabo Manamela, Dr Barney Selebano, Hannah Jacobus, Daphney Ndhlovu, Nonceba Sennelo, Dr Richard Lebethe, Dr Richard Lebethe, Levy Mosenogi, Mothomone Pitsi, Sophie Lenkwane?
• Are there any additional legal costs associated with the inquest, apart from the above-mentioned, being paid for by the Office of the State Attorney?
• Please provide a breakdown of the fees the Office of the State Attorney has agreed upon for the legal firms, and senior and junior advocates who are representing the above-mentioned witnesses.
• How much has the Office of the State Attorney disbursed so far in payments for the inquest?

Deputy State Attorney KI Chowe – on behalf of the Office of the State Attorney – said they were paying for the legal representation of the above-mentioned witnesses, with the exception of Mothomone Pitsi.

There was no response to a request for a breakdown of legal costs per witness, and whether the Office of the State Attorney engages legal representation at a reduced rate.

Last week saw what was to be the last witness in the tragedy, former Health MEC Qedani Mahlangu, who concluded her testimony on 11 May.

During the arbitration that was presided over by retired Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke, Mahlangu denied responsibility for the patient deaths, saying officials presented reports that “all is well”. This prompted an exasperated Moseneke to ask Mahlangu:

“But who would appoint this bunch of liars? Every one of them … has been untruthful.”

Mahlangu maintained she was not individually responsible for the deaths that occurred during the marathon project of transferring the patients as she was “not an implementer and only relied on the reports provided to her by department officials”.

This is despite evidence from previous witnesses and officials from the department at the time, who said they alerted Mahlangu to the difficulties patients were facing.

News24 reports that she said she was “misled”.

“I am not certain whether I was misled intentionally or with the intention for people to commit negligence, but I was misled. As I have said, the head of department said he might not have been giving me information. However, I will continue to say I am profusely sorry for what happened.”

Earlier, Mahlangu was asked who, in her view, had decided to terminate the contract.

“…The decision was taken by the PBC (provincial budget committee), chaired by then Gauteng Premier David Makhura, and I was present in that meeting. I was part of the decision making,” she responded.

There were also senior officials from Treasury, the Premier’s office and her department who were present at the time, she added.

“At all material times, the premier was involved when the decision about Life Esidimeni was taken. He was fully aware of what was happening. Whatever information he did not have is also the information that I did not have.”

Judge Mmonoa Teffo now wants to hear from former Makhura, former Gauteng Finance MEC Barbara Creecy (who will add to the State Attorney’s legal fees disbursement) and Professor Lesley Robertson, head of the community psychiatry clinical unit at Sedibeng District Health Service.

Makhura, Creecy and Robertson are due to appear on 22 May.


Daily Maverick article – Life Esidimeni inquest legal fees have cost Gauteng Health a staggering R77 million and counting (Open access)


News24 article – Life Esidimeni inquiry: 'I was misled' – Qedani Mahlangu says as she apologises (Restricted access)


See more from MedicalBrief archives:


Former MEC claims she was unaware of risks of Life Esidimeni transfers


Life Esidimeni inquest: MEC dodges blame for ending contracts


State still paying ex-MEC’s legal fees in Life Esidimeni case


Life Esidimeni victims, families, paid R405m







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