The Gauteng Provincial Government is footing the legal bill for all current and former officials who have been subpoenaed to give evidence at the Life Esidimeni Inquest to determine the cause of death of 144 mental health patients who died after they were sent to unsuitable NGOs.
This disturbing information is disclosed by Gauteng Premier David Makhura in a written reply to my questions in the Gauteng Legislature.
Makhura says this is being done according to a legal opinion that “Government has an obligation to provide legal representation as a basic principle and standard practice.”
The State Attorney has therefore been instructed to appoint legal representatives for these officials, including state attorneys and attorneys from the following law firms:
- Werksmans Attorneys
- Ramsay Webber Attorneys
- Robert H Kanarek Attorneys
It is unfortunate that these legal costs for officials who are implicated in the deaths will amount to millions of rand as these are expensive law firms,.
It is unclear whether former Health MEC Qedani Mahlangu also qualifies for state-funded legal aid. I will ask further questions on this as she is wealthy enough to pay for her own legal costs.
The DA has repeatedly requested Premier David Makhura to use the Apportionment of Damages Act to ensure that Mahlangu and her top officials pay from their own pockets towards the more than R300 million paid out to the Esidimeni victims. This is even more justified now that the provincial government is paying millions more in legal expenses.
Meanwhile, the inquest into the deaths has been delayed by the legal representation issues, and families of those who died still have to wait for justice to be done.
I acknowledge that the government is following a legal opinion in this matter, but all these extra costs at the taxpayers’ expense would have been avoided if the Esidimeni tragedy did not happen in the first place.