Gauteng Premier must account for Esidimeni deaths

Gauteng Premier David Makhura is due to appear before the Esidimeni arbitration hearings tomorrow where he will need to account for his role in the deaths of mental patients who were sent to unregistered NGOs.

It has now been established that the decision to cancel the Esidimeni contract was taken at a meeting of the budget committee which he chaired.

Former Health MEC Qedani Mahlangu has also revealed that NEHAWU met with the Premier in November 2015 to discuss the employment of those who would be retrenched when Esidimeni facilities were closed down. The undertaking was given that they would be given jobs in the department or with the NGOs where patients would be sent.

Makhura has always claimed that he did not know that Esidimeni patients would be sent to NGOs and would never have approved such a plan.

But it was always clear from statements by Mahlangu that a large number of patients would be sent to NGOs e.g. in her written reply to my questions in the Legislature on 18 November 2015 she said that 591 patients would be sent to NGOs and the rest to government facilities.

Makhura should have taken note of the many media reports and the two court cases in which he was cited as a respondent which highlighted the risks of transferring patients to the NGOs.

He also ignored a letter that Wits University occupational therapy students wrote to him on 18 January 2016 in which they warned about moving the patients from Esidimeni’s Waverley Care Centre in Germiston.

Furthermore, mental health review board director Dumi Masondo said at the Esidimeni hearings that Makhura had attended meetings on the move of the patients.

A key question Makhura needs to answer is why he did not fire Qedani Mahlangu after she disclosed 36 deaths in reply to my questions on 13 September 2016 as this would have saved many lives as remedial steps could have been taken far sooner instead of the attempted cover-up by Mahlangu and her officials.

It would be really disappointing if Makhura evades his personal accountability for the Esidimeni tragedy and chooses to blame others when he should have been listening to all the warnings and monitoring what was happening as the premier of this province.