Life Esidimeni: Starving woman ate plastic and paper bags

Johannesburg – The mother of a Life Esidimeni patient who was moved to one of the unlicensed NGOs and died days later said she "nearly died" when she saw her daughter’s body in the mortuary.

Maria Phehla, whose daughter Deborah was moved to Takalani in Soweto, said her daughter starved to death and didn’t receive proper help in her dying moments.

"I was so shocked, I nearly died when I saw my daughter lying there [in the mortuary], her face was full of blood," Maria said.

Following Deborah’s death, a post-mortem report revealed she had plastic and brown paper in her stomach, leading Maria to believe she wasn’t fed properly at Takalani.

"She was starving," Maria said. "That’s why she ate it."

Seeking answers

"I am blaming the Gauteng provincial department. That is what led to Deborah’s death," she said.

"I want answers. I won’t be okay without those answers," Maria said.

Maria’s sentiments were echoed by other families who lost relatives during the transfer who testified on Wednesday.

Elizabeth Phangela, whose brother Christopher Makhoba died in July 2016 after being transferred from Life Esidimeni to Precious Angels, said she would not have closure until she could talk face-to-face to the main officials responsible for the tragedy.

"I will find closure [if those responsible] will be arrested and thrown into jail," she said.

"I will be very happy if they are arrested… Someone who was a witness here compared the situation to Marikana… but these people did nothing, they were patients," she said. 

Nono Maditse, whose brother Charity Ratsotso died, said she just wanted to understand why the implicated officials made the decisions they did.

"[Qedani Mahlangu] must come and explain to us what happened to our family members. They were human beings and had to be treated that way," she said.

READ: Mahlangu suspended from UK banking school over Life Esidimeni allegations

"She must come and testify. We want her here. She must come and explain," Maditse said.

Earlier on Wednesday, it emerged that Dr Tiego Selebano, the suspended head of the Gauteng health department, approached the South Gauteng High Court in Johannesburg to set aside the subpoena requesting him to testify at the Life Esidimeni hearings.

The health ombudsman’s report named Selebano as one of the officials whose negligence resulted in the deaths of at least 141 patients.

Selebano, along with the former Gauteng MEC of health Qedani Mahlangu, and Dr Makgabo Manamela, the suspended director of the mental health review board, were not on the state’s initial list of witnesses to be called to the hearings. Counsel for the state has yet to verify Mahlangu’s residential address in the UK.

Earlier in the hearings, it was said that Mahlangu was studying abroad and would only be able to testify after her examinations at the end of the year.

It has since emerged Mahlangu was a student at the University of Bedfordshire’s affiliate, the Global Banking School, where she was suspended based on the allegations against her.

Before the arbitration hearings adjourned a week ago, former deputy chief justice Dikgang Moseneke, who chairs the hearings, insisted Mahlangu, Manamela and Selebano would appear before the hearings.

"My position is that those three witnesses will come before us," Moseneke said at the time.

The hearings continue on Thursday.

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