Top politicians now need to answer at Esidimeni hearings

The Esidimeni arbitration hearings have concluded this year with senior officials put under the spotlight and searing reactions from bereaved relatives.

We now need to hear from the top politicians who are ultimately accountable for this tragedy in which 143 mental patients lost their lives.

Former Health MEC Qedani Mahlangu is due to testify on 22 January next year, followed by Gauteng Premier David Makhura and National Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi.

I hope that they are not as evasive as the Gauteng Health Department officials who have appeared at the hearings.

Suspended Head of Department Barney Selebano ended his testimony with a heartfelt plea for forgiveness, but this was only after contradictions were exposed in his evidence and he tried to evade responsibility for what occurred.

It is clear that former MEC Qedani Mahlangu was the driving force behind the cancellation of the Esidimeni contract, and health officials were scared to challenge the reckless transfer of patients to illegally registered NGOs.

Selebano has said that the Budget Council chaired by Premier Makhura approved the cancellation of the Esidimeni contract for budgetary reasons.

Makhura’s knowledge of the Esidimeni transfers needs to be probed, including why he ignored warnings sent to him and alarming media reports.

He also needs to answer why he failed to fire Mahlangu immediately after 36 deaths were revealed in response to my question in the Gauteng Legislature on 13 September last year. This step would have saved many lives as Mahlangu and senior officials continued to cover up what was really happening.

Furthermore, Health Minister Motsoaledi must account for his own ineffective action as the tragedy unfolded.

There must be nothing less than full disclosure and sincere contrition from the politicians involved so that the families can find some sort of closure in this traumatic matter.