It’s been a frustrating day for former Gauteng Health MEC Qedani Mahlangu, punctuated with pregnant pauses, sighs and eventually posturing that she was not a prophet and couldn’t foresee that the move of over 1700 mental health patients would end in 143 deaths.
This as Mahlangu spent a third day on the stand at the Life Esidimeni arbitration hearings in Parktown today.
Dressed in all black as a sign of her mourning the mass deaths that occurred under her watch, Mahlangu and Legal Aid advocate, Lilla Crouse had several moments of heated exchanges as Crouse pressed her on her role on the tragic marathon project.
But it was when asked by the arbitration chair – former deputy chief justice Dikgang Moseneke – why despite marches and memorandum from families imploring her to stop the move, her department still continued, that a heaviness befell the families attending the hearings who let out moans as he spoke.
“I don’t see any responsiveness to the pain of the people. I’ve removed my lawyer hat...I’m talking to you comrade to comrade...we should have listened to our people at the very least, let alone anyone else,” Moseneke said.
Mahlangu conceded that families marched to her department and handed to her memorandums over their grievances regarding the move.
She reiterated throughout the cross examination that when the “collective” took the decision to terminate the contract, they could not have foreseen the tragic outcome.
“Now I know that the human rights of the patients were violated, but it was not intentional and that’s important. If I were a prophet, but I’m not, I could have foreseen but I’m not,” Mahlangu told the hearings.
Throughout her testimony, Mahlangu has maintained she was misled by her former head of department, Dr Barney Selebano and director of mental health, Makgabo Manamela, about the state and readiness of the non-governmental organisations.
She stated “the truth will set me free” and also raised her concern that the line of questioning she was subjected to bordered on questioning her character and that made her uncomfortable.