‘I do not carry personal blame’- Qedani

‘I do not carry personal blame’- QedaniMEC Qedani Mahlangu. (Credit: Daily Maverick)

Former Gauteng Health MEC Qedani Mahlangu has told the Life Esidimini arbitration hearings in Parktown, Johannesburg that there was nothing wrong her going on political campaigns while the marathon project that resulted in patients dying was underway.

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The hearing, which is looking into the Gauteng Health Department’s decision to end its contract with Life Esidimeni and move almost 2000 mentally ill patients into irregularly licensed NGO’s in a process that caused the deaths of 143 people. The process took place under Mahlangu’s watch.

Legal Aid counsel Advocate Lila Crouse grilled Mahlangu about her decisions to prioritise her political work for three months in May, June and July 2016. Mahlangu told the hearings that this was because the day-to-day running of the department was not her responsibility.

“I don’t need to be physically available to understand what is going on, because I would talk to the HOD frequently,”  Mahlangu testified earlier, claiming she was unaware that patients were dying at the time.

The department’s then Head of Department was Dr Barney Selebano, who testified before the arbitration last year that government systems were different to other “normal” employment environments, and that even as HOD he still had to report to Mahlangu, his political head.

Many deaths

“While politicians are out campaigning and doing political work of any kind, civil servants’ are expected to continue their work. Whether the MEC or the minister is around or not, civil servants are paid as professionals to continue with what they are employed to do.”

When asked whether she carried any personal blame, Mahlangu maintained that it was her officials who were in the wrong and she was in no way responsible for the tragedy that resulted in so many deaths.

Mahlangu, who was abroad when the arbitration started late last year, complained about questions put to her, insisting on long-winded responses.

At times former Deputy Justice Dikgang Moseneke, who is chairing the arbitration, had to rephrase questions Crouse posed to Mahlangu who said she felt a disempowered by the questions she had to answer.

“I feel like I am being constrained. I am being asked questions that are beyond my role as a politician,” Mahlangu lamented, claiming she could not respond with a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’.

Crouse meanwhile grew increasingly frustrated in her efforts to get straight answers.

Crouse interrogated Mahlangu on why she had not raised the decision to terminate the long-running Life Esidimeni contract with the National Health Council before implementation.

“If I had known, and if I had the facts that have now been revealed to the public, I would have. I have a good relationship with the minister and could raise issues with him upfront or telephonically everyday. So I had no reason to hide any information from anybody,” Mahlangu responded.

The hearing continues.