'We did things terribly wrong' - suspended head of Gauteng health

Johannesburg - Suspended head of the Gauteng health department, Barney Selebano, has admitted that he "didn't fathom that such a tragedy could take place", conceding that his department did not follow advice.

"We did things wrong by not heeding to advice, by not listening to other people," he said.

It was his second day giving evidence at the Life Esidimeni arbitration in Parktown, Johannesburg on Wednesday.

Selebano said that he took responsibility for the "regrettable" deaths of more than 140 mentally ill patients who died when they were moved to different ill-equipped non-governmental organisations (NGOs) across the province.

"I take accountability. It happened under my watch. There is no way that, if you are a leader and something happens, and then you suddenly want to walk away from it," he said.

READ: 'I was afraid to stand up to Qedani Mahlangu' - suspended head

Selebano told the hearing that the deaths took place because of the negligent conduct of the department that he headed.

The former health head, who referred to the move as a "revenue enhancement programme" denied that he knew that the rushed and ill-conceived move would result in fatalities.

"If I had known that there would be mortalities - I wouldn't have guessed that - if I had known, then really that would have been unthinkable, that I would have gone on," he said.

It was again revealed that he, along with other senior officials, had more than one warning about the dire consequences of moving mentally ill patients from Life Esidimeni to NGOs. Warnings came in the form of legal action, media coverage, family and civil organisation complaints.

Furthermore, an extensive report costing R400 000, compiled by the Health Advanced Institute (HAI), revealed that the service offered at Life Esidimeni was good value for money and the institution was financially efficient. The report was paid for by the department.

Collective decision makers

Former deputy chief justice Dikgang Moseneke said Selebano should have taken steps to avoid all harm, even if he couldn't have foreseen the tragedy.

"The warnings came, but one wishes they could wind back the time and act differently. I am not defending it or saying we acted in the right manner, but the warnings were clear… although they never said there would be fatalities," he said.

The warnings came before he signed the contract which terminated the contract between Life Esidimeni and the department in September 2015.

Selebano stuck to his guns, saying that the decision to end the contract with Life Esidimeni was made by a collective group after extensive meetings between 2014 and 2015.

ALSO READ: Gauteng health officials pushed ahead with mental patient move despite warnings

He named former MEC, Qedani Mahlangu, directors, chief directors, chief executive officers (CEOs), deputy director generals, head of mental health Makgabo Manamela and himself as the collective decision makers.

Selebano reluctantly testified after being cornered that the mental healthcare unit - headed by Manamela - authored the letter that he signed to terminate the contract.

He said he was told that the contract had been there since 1977, was operational in the whole country, and was one of the supply chain reasons behind the termination, which he mentioned on Tuesday.

It emerged previously that although Selebano said the department made the decision because they were cash-strapped and needed to relieve financial pressure, they were able to buy Life Esidimeni.

Moseneke said the department could have put it out to tender instead of terminating at the expense of the vulnerable.

Selebano continues his testimony on Thursday.

KEEP UPDATED on the latest news by subscribing to our FREE newsletter.

- FOLLOW News24 on Twitter

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For only R75 per month, you have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today.
Subscribe to News24
Lockdown For
Voting Booth
Matric results are out! Are you happy with your child's result?
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
No, the pandemic really messed up their ability to focus
34% - 841 votes
Yes, they did well given the circumstances
66% - 1617 votes
Rand - Dollar
Rand - Pound
Rand - Euro
Rand - Aus dollar
Rand - Yen
Brent Crude
Top 40
All Share
Resource 10
Industrial 25
Financial 15
All JSE data delayed by at least 15 minutes Iress logo
Editorial feedback and complaints

Contact the public editor with feedback for our journalists, complaints, queries or suggestions about articles on News24.