'I was under pressure to meet the deadline' - former Life Esidimeni project head

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Protests over the Life Esidimeni tragedy in 2018.
Protests over the Life Esidimeni tragedy in 2018.
Alet Pretorius/Gallo Images/Getty Images
  • The man who was in charge of the Life Esidimeni project, told an inquest that he was under pressure to meet deadlines to move patients to NGOs.
  • He said he was so traumatised by the transfer of patients that he couldn't sleep at night.
  • The inquest has been postponed to October so that the NGOs can get access to legal representation.

The Gauteng health official who was in charge of the Life Esidimeni project told an inquest at the Gauteng High Court in Pretoria that he was under pressure to complete the transfer of mental health patients to NGOs.  

Testifying at the Life Esidimeni inquest on Wednesday, Levy Mosenogi, who was the project manager for the termination of the contract between Life Esidimeni and the Gauteng health department, said he had to meet short deadlines.

The inquest is trying to determine whether anyone can be criminally charged for the death of 144 patients who were moved to ill-equipped NGOs as part of the project.

READ | Life Esidimeni: Gauteng officials were under political pressure to move patients, inquest hears

In his statement, which evidence leader Pieter Luyt read out, Mosenogi said: "I felt that I was under pressure to meet the deadline. I feared that termination was given [at] short notice and that some users might not be accommodated".

Mosenogi said he managed to postpone the moving of children from Baneng Care Centre for a year. 

"Baneng was very different. Parents were worried. They raised issues about who would take care of their children," he said during cross-examination.

Mosenogi added that he visited the Waverley and Randfontein care centres to check on the project's progress. At Waverley, he said, he received no complaints from staff. But at Randfontein, staff were worried the moves would leave them unemployed.  

"I was traumatised by the users who were being prepared for the moves to the extent that I could not sleep at night."

READ | Life Esidimeni: NGO did not have food to feed mental healthcare patients, inquest hears

Mosenogi said he realised in March 2016 that it would take longer than expected to finish the project.

He asked then Gauteng Health MEC Qedani Mahlangu for a three-month extension and it was granted. But he never asked for another because, he said, staff in the mental health unit assured him that NGOs were ready for the patients. 

Mosenogi also said that he proposed to former Gauteng health head of department Dr Tiego "Barney" Selebano that the department should buy Life Esidimeni facilities, but said he never responded.  

Worried families 

The inquest heard that during a meeting at the Waverley Care Centre in January 2016, family members were emotional and unhappy about the moving of patients.

The purpose of the meeting was to announce the transfer to the family members. Mahlangu was late for the meeting and he had to chair it, he said.

"The meeting was very rough. People were complaining and raising their voices. It was tough even for me. When the MEC came in, she decided to chair the meeting because she could see I was not coping."

Mosenogi said that despite explanations about budget cuts and that the department could not have a life-long contract with Life Esidimeni, families were unhappy.

At the time of termination, the contract had been in place for 38 years.  

The meeting resolved that the family should form a committee to liaise with the department about the project. 

Mahlangu assured them that patients would be moved to facilities that had the same level of care as Life Esidimeni.  

At another meeting at the Randfontein Care Centre, he said, Selebano reassured families that the patients would be moved to good centres.  

The inquest has been postponed to 4 October to give the NGOs the opportunity to secure legal representation.

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