Life Esidimeni: 'Police struggled to get information from health depts'

Johannesburg – The head of detective services in the South African Police Service (SAPS) has told the Life Esidimeni hearings that a team of investigators he appointed had struggled to obtain information from the national and provincial departments of health.

Major General Charles Johnson, the component head of detective services with the SAPS, told the arbitration hearings into the death of at least 141 mental healthcare patients that a team of eight detectives he oversaw had trouble obtaining information from the Gauteng and national health departments.

"Our investigation is delayed by the non-cooperation of the department of health and the Gauteng department of health," he said.

READ: Govt’s apologies 'too little, too late' – brother of dead Life Esidemeni patient

Johnson said he "got an indication there was going to be stumbling blocks" after he was promised information from the department, only to be told later that he had to write to request the information he required.

"We are two government departments, and why should we beg for information?" he said.

During cross-examination, Johnson said: "Based on my experience, the only inference I can make is, there is something to hide."

Johnson said, following his team’s "frustration" over trying to obtain information from the departments, he was forced to go to court to obtain a summons for Dr Ernest Kenoshi, the acting head of the Gauteng health department, who took over the position in February, to provide a statement before a magistrate.

Kenoshi, who testified at the Life Esidimeni hearings during the first week, said that, when he took over the position, his main priority had been to "stabilise the situation" and "saving lives".

'He was not telling the truth'

However, Johnson said on Thursday that Kenoshi was not truthful during certain parts of his testimony, including when he said the department had handed over all the documents in its possession to the SAPS.

"He was not telling the truth," Johnson said.

Earlier, Johnson told the hearings that his team was dealing with 127 cases, including 38 inquest dockets and 89 inquiries, which could be turned into inquests if evidence pointed in that way.

He told the hearings that the SAPS had not yet obtained a statement from Dr Makgabo Manamela, the head of the mental health review board, who had signed off on the death certificates. Johnson said his team had been unable to obtain such a statement from Manamela.

On Tuesday, arbitration hearing chairperson, former deputy chief justice Dikgang Moseneke, said that the hearings wouldn't come to an end until Manamela, suspended head of department Dr Tiego Selebano, and former Health MEC Qedani Mahlangu had appeared.

READ: Mahlangu must face Life Esidimeni hearings, say protesters at London School of Economics

"My position is that those three witnesses will come before us," Moseneke said on Tuesday.

"Let me make it clear, these proceedings will not end until those witnesses… come before this hearing. If they are not here, all three of them, these hearings won’t end," he said.

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