Life Esidimeni update: Five years later, key officials implicated yet to face disciplinary action

play article
Subscribers can listen to this article
  • Life Esidimeni-implicated officials are still to face the music
  • The NPA will is set to decide on dates for the inquest
  • There is also no word on the Life Esidimeni monument tat was supposed to be built

The case against former Gauteng health Head of Department, Dr Tiego Selebano, has once again been postponed by the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA). 

Selebano was supposed to make an appearance before the statuary body's preliminary committee for his role in the Life Esidmeni tragedy last week. The HPCSA says that new hearing dates still need to be confirmed.

It is not the first time the body has postponed Selebano's hearing. The HPCSA previously stated that Selebano's inquiry would take place in mid-September 2019.

This was after the department reported Selebano to the organisation in December 2017, as per the recommendation of the Health Ombud, Malegapuru Makgoba, after he investigated the Life Esidimeni tragedy.

The body did not respond to Health24's question on whether Selabano still has his medical practising licence.

Other officials still to face the music

Former director of mental health, Dr Makgabo Manamela, as well as her deputy Hanna Jacobus, were, as recommended by Former Deputy Justice Dikgang Mosenenke, to be reported to the South African Nursing Council (SANC) as part of the Life Esidimeni arbitration award in March 2018.

Mosenenke also said that former chairperson of the Gauteng Mental Health Review Board Dumazile Masondo should be reported to the nursing council.

The nursing council's CEO, Sizo Mchune, has told Health24 that the trio still have to face disciplinary action as they have not yet appeared before the Professional Conduct Committee of the SA Nursing Council.

Regarding nursing licenses, the body says that "some are valid and some are not".

Wheels of justice may start to move

On Monday, the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) will be holding a meeting with affected family members, their representatives and evidence leaders to map the way forward regarding the Life Esidimeni inquest, says North Gauteng regional spokesperson, Lumka Mahanjana. 

Last year, Justice Minister, Ronald Lamola, announced that an inquest into the 144 metal healthcare user deaths would be set up and heard in the North Gauteng High Court.

Mahanjana tells Health24 that one of the reasons for the delay in the inquest was caused by the fact that there is a new judge presiding over the case.

"The amount of time spent since the arbitration report and where we are now can be attributed to several situations. The time spent by SAPS and us included extensive consultations with a huge amount of witnesses, obtaining medical opinions and exhibits with the targeted view to obtain sufficient evidence to prove causation on the part of anybody. 

"The process for a combined inquest to be conducted by a judge of the High Court takes time. As the judge is dominus litis [master of the case] in an inquest, the hearing can logically only commence after the judge has had the opportunity to peruse all the available evidence and information which, in this matter, is extensive," Mahanjana said 

Gauteng government mum about the monument 

As part of Moseneke's judgment, the provincial government is supposed to set up a monument as a reminder of the tragedy. 

Family members are waiting for an update from the Premier's office and  Gauteng Health regarding progress on the monument, says family member representative Christine Nxumalo.

"Families want a living monument, a hospital similar to the Nelson Mandela Children's Hospital, where the best mental health professionals will work from and attend to specific cases and in all five regions a clinic or a wing to an existing clinic at primary level with the goal of addressing early detection of mental health in the communities.

"And these discussions were held as far back as early 2019," Nxumalo told Health 24. 

The Gauteng province government did not respond to Health24's media query.

Five years on

This year marks five years since the calamity. Nxumalo says that there is still a lot that needs to be improved regarding mental healthcare services.

"MHCUs (mental healthcare users) are still being discharged without them being well because of bed shortages; the relationship with families and social workers still needs to improve. No updates were given throughout the Covid1-9 lockdown period.

"Other issues include the lack of monitoring and evaluation on all facilities, but more specifically, the contracted mental healthcare facilities because they were not held accountable. The same issues are still being repeated. The training that EMS and SAPS on how to respond to calls relating to someone living with a mental illness, and the regulations governing NGOs looking after MHCUs are still a problem," Nxumalo said.

Nxumalo added that they are still waiting for other officials and organisations to be held accountable.

"People must be in jail and not just the top three but all those who helped put this process into motion in the Gauteng Health Department, the hospitals, the NGOs, the SAPS involved, the undertakers.

"Not forgetting Life Esidimeni Group's role also needs to be investigated because they didn't sound the alarms on the days when MHCUs were being removed from their premises they watched on," Nxumalo says.

*Sign up for our Daily Dose newsletter here.

READ|Nurses have high suicide risk, US study finds

READ|Lockdowns can reduce the severity of Covid-19 epidemics – and genetic evidence proves it

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