Life Esidimeni project was chaotic, badly managed - Ramokgopa

Johannesburg – Gauteng Health MEC Dr Gwen Ramokgopa says the Life Esidimeni marathon project was "chaotic" and "badly managed".

"That is the reason why we are not able to account for the patients that are unaccounted for," Ramokgopa said during her testimony at the Life Esidimeni arbitration hearing in Parktown, Johannesburg on Wednesday.  

She said that, when she was appointed in February 2017, it was a "painful period, particularly for the families".

READ: It happened under my watch, says Makhura

She understood that her priority was to ensure the implementation of the health ombudsman's recommendations. 

The hearing was told that a contract with Life Esidimeni was entered into in March 2017. The current agreement was for three years, she said.

Fourteen NGOs were completely shut down and 11 remain, Ramokgopa said.

She said officials were working with the families of the victims.

"We humbled ourselves through the office of the premier. We have also dedicated the month of October to strengthen our partnerships with various stakeholders," she said.

This list 

She said she has been encouraged that families have made it clear that closure would not be in monetary terms only.

Ramokgopa also revealed that, from October 15, 2015 - the total number of patients they could confirm had been discharged or who left Life Esidimeni during the project was 1 711.

"I am aware that there was a number of 62 [unaccounted patients] and it is an error. There is no list that has the number 62."

According to Ramokgopa, the number had initially stood at 59. They managed to find four of the patients, which then brought the number to 55 unaccounted patients.

"Some were at NGOs and some were at home and such."

She said that, as of Wednesday morning, she was given a list of 48 people as seven others had been identified.

However, she requested time to verify the number before making it official.

She also confirmed that other professionals have been reported to the various health councils for their role in the project. 

Six directors were subjected to disciplinary procedures and pleaded guilty. They were given final written warnings and counselling, she said.

'There has been a lot of pain'

Asked about the total amount of money that former head of department Dr Barney Selebano was paid while he was on suspension, she said: "I do not have those figures, but I know it was full pay."

Ramokgopa also said that former director of mental health Dr Makgabo Manamela was suspended on full pay.

Earlier, Gauteng Premier David Makhura vowed to do his best to fix the system.

"You have suffered, there has been a lot of pain and that pain continues even today. I humble myself before you," he said, while addressing the families during his testimony.

He told the hearing that he had had faith in former Gauteng health MEC Qedani Mahlangu.

"I was confident she would be able to handle any portfolio," he said.

But Makhura said that, following the Life Esidimeni tragedy, he would question what his MECs told him.

After his testimony, an emotional Makhura hugged family members who received him with warmth. Some cried as they spoke to him. 

Makhura said the families would not heal and have closure if they had had to hear conflicting versions of what happened.

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