Life Esidimeni: Senior health official breaks down during testimony

2018-01-19 17:57
Deputy director of mental health, Hannah Jacobus at the Life Esidimeni hearings. (Nation Nyoka, News24)

Deputy director of mental health, Hannah Jacobus at the Life Esidimeni hearings. (Nation Nyoka, News24)

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Johannesburg - A senior health official broke down at the Life Esidimeni arbitration hearings, telling the panel that she was not well after the tragedy and asking family members for forgiveness.
A tearful Gauteng deputy director of mental health Hannah Jacobus took the stand for her second day of testimony in Parktown, Johannesburg on Friday, explaining that she often oscillated between feelings of guilt, sadness and extreme anger.

Despite pinning most of the blame on her former boss Dr Makgabo Manamela, Jacobus acknowledged that she was not blameless in the deadly events that she says may have caused agony to family members and mentally ill patients. 

READ: 'Why I fraudulently issued NGO licences' - official speaks at Life Esidimeni hearing

"I really apologise to the families for what happened and [hope] they can forgive me for partaking in this project because we didn't realise what was going on, and there wasn't enough time to communicate with families," she cried.

Jacobus said she should have advocated more for mental health patients. She took responsibility for the squalid conditions, degrading treatment and exploitation of the patients.

On Thursday, she told the panel that she raised her concerns.

"I feel really terrible for my action...and inaction in terms of that...I could've gone further than the MEC [in reporting fraudulent licensing]," she said.

Before the start of the second session, Jacobus, clad in a baby pink jacket and white top, silently wiped away tears before breaking down on more than one occasion during cross-examination with state advocate Tebogo Hutamo.

Justice Dikgang Moseneke had to rebuke hostile family members for laughing at and heckling Jacobus while tears filled her eyes and her voice gave way.

"Why is she crying? She is only crying now after our loved ones have died!" a furious family member shouted. 

Counsellors were kept busy too as other family members became emotional and Jacobus became increasingly inaudible, her voice drowned out by sobs and snuffles. 

Instructions came from management

Jacobus tried to shift the blame saying instructions to unlawfully and hurriedly move patients came from "senior management".

Legal Aid's Lilla Crous quizzed Jacobus on her role in the tragedy, finally getting the health official, who has a Masters in psychiatric nursing, to admit that the face behind the "senior management", who came up with the marathon project plan, was former provincial health MEC Qedani Mahlangu. 

"She [Manamela] said it was senior management, then she said it's the MEC [Mahlangu]. She has taken a decision and it must be implemented," she said to Crous, who expressed her incredulity at how long it took her to admit this. 

The marathon project she referred to, was the plan implemented by the Gauteng Department of Health after they terminated a contract with Life Esidimeni in what was initially called a "cost-cutting measure".

The termination resulted in 143 mentally ill patients losing their lives when they were hurriedly moved to ill-equipped non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

Many died of dehydration and hypothermia and some were allegedly raped at the fraudulently licensed facilities.

Read more on:    life esidimeni  |  hannah jacobus  |  makgabo manamela  |  dikgang moseneke  |  johannesburg  |  health

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