Johannesburg - President Cyril Ramaphosa has defended the fact that disgraced former health MEC Qedani Mahlangu joined him for his healthy lifestyle walk in Soweto on Saturday.
Mahlangu was one of the ANC leaders in Gauteng, which included former City of Johannesburg mayor Parks Tau and Premier David Makhura, who accompanied Ramaphosa on a 5km walk in the famous township ahead of his voter registration drive.
Mahlangu resigned in the wake of the Health Ombud's report into the deaths of at least 143 mentally ill patients who died in 2016 when they were transferred from Life Esidimeni facility to several NGOs, some of which were not registered.
Ramaphosa said Qedani should not be rejected as she had been held accountable, first by resigning and then later appearing before the arbitration hearings into the matter, headed by former Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke.
"Qedani Mahlangu, like any other South Africa, is a person who must be treated as a citizen of this country.
"She is a comrade and whatever we have done, it does not mean we have to treat people with hatred and rejection and with total disdain. She is just a human being like all of us are," Ramaphosa said.
However some officials said they were surprised by Mahlangu's appearance, and she was later told not to be part of Ramaphosa's voter registration mobilization campaign in the township.
The walk was Mahlangu's first public appearance since her appearance at the hearings. She apologised to the families but the families rejected her apology. She also shifted the blame.
Ramophosa did not answer directly to a question on whether her presence was not insensitive to the relatives who are still seeking closure.
"We are ashamed. We hang our heads in shame and we sought forgiveness for that but that does not mean that we should not be relating to people like families of Life Esidimeni and even to people who did participate in all this because that is how we heal."
He added that such a "disaster" should never happen again.
Ramaphosa was informed by Makhura that Mahlangu has also been hauled before the province's integrity commission.
Mahlangu remains the party's provincial executive committee member.
"You must never think that we sweep things under the carpet, particularly in this new era… Going to subject herself to the integrity committee of the ANC in the province shows that this ANC we are dealing with is not the ANC that will run away from problems, we will deal with problems head-on," Ramaphosa insisted.
Earlier, the newly elected president was confronted by a wailing Matshidiso Ngatane, who looked for her father for two years, after an administration bungle at Leratong hospital, on the West Rand.
Ngatane said she had been told by the hospital that her father was discharged, but after a two-year search, she discovered that he had died in 2005.
Still shaken by the experience, through her tears Ngatane pleaded with Ramaphosa and Makhura to intervene.
She said the Life Esidimeni tragedy had deepened her depression, telling News24 that health officials at the time had treated her with disdain.
The party's Gauteng officials promised Ngatane that they would look into her tragedy and offered the services of social workers to help her.