THE Life Esidimeni arbitration hearing is to continue for the second week today. This follows an emotional week in which both families and witnesses shed tears during cross examination, with retired justice Dikgang Moseneke often having to adjourn the proceedings or ask families not to interfere with the process. Calls have also been mounting for former Gauteng health MEC Qedani Mahlangu to be called to account for the tragedy.
Families said they were last week left with more questions than answers as to why their loved ones died in the chaotic and deadly relocations. This after nobody could properly explain why it was so urgent to relocate the psychiatric patients from Life Esidimeni. On Friday, Gauteng health head of department Dr Ernest Kenoshi testified how all the officials implicated in the report of the ombudsman including members of the mental health review board had either undergone disciplinary hearings or were suspended.
The state has so far called five witness to demonstrate the government had accepted responsibility for the tragedy and has worked to implement recommendations contained in the report of the health ombudsman. Last Monday, health ombudsman Prof Malegapuru revealed for the first time since releasing the report that 118 patients had died as a result of the relocations. Malegapuru testified that all of the recommendations made in his report were in some stage or another of implementation and he had met regularly with the government to get updates on the progress. The death toll has since risen after the director-general of the national health department Dr Precious Matsoso revealed there were seven unidentified dead patients and 56 patients still missing.
Moseneke heard how the national health department remained in the dark about the plans of the Gauteng health department to terminate its contract with Life Esidimeni until Section 27 complained. Moseneke heard how other departments had terminated their contracts with Life Healthcare Esidimeni and was no such tragedy that occurred in Gauteng. Emotions ran high as senior official in the Gauteng health department Levy Mosenogi and the Esidimeni project manager testified how the project was doomed to fail from the start. Mosenogi said that he had on several occasions warned that the project was too big and complex to be successfully carried out in three months.
Director-general in the office of the premier Phindile Baleni also testified that her office had not been aware of the termination until a year later when then former MEC Qedani Mahlangu revealed in the legislature that 36 psychiatric patients had died. Mosenogi, Matsoso and Baleni all apologised to the families for the tragedy, saying they were doing everything possible to ensure that such a tragedy never occurred again. The hearing will sit for three weeks.