Life Esidimeni: Former DDG grilled about his role in moving patients

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Protests during the testimony of former Gauteng Health MEC Qedani Mahlangu at the Life Esidimeni arbitration hearings in 2018.
Protests during the testimony of former Gauteng Health MEC Qedani Mahlangu at the Life Esidimeni arbitration hearings in 2018.
Alet Pretorius/Gallo Images/Getty Images
  • Former health DDG admits he played a role in the project team that moved patients from Life Esidimeni to NGOs. 
  • Dr Richard Lebethe still maintains he had other responsibilities in the department and was not hands-on with the project team. 
  • The inquest is trying to determine if anyone can be charged for the deaths of 144 patients. 

Since taking the stand at the Life Esidimeni inquest last week, former Gauteng health deputy director-general Dr Richard Lebethe has been trying to minimise his role in the project.   

On Tuesday, Lebethe was confronted about emails and meetings that he was a part of that showed his role was not as minor as he had been portraying it to be. At the time, Lebethe was the deputy director-general of clinical services.  

In his testimony, Lebethe said that though he was part of the project team, he didn't play a big role because he had other commitments in the department.

READ | Life Esidimeni accused of price gouging

He said he only started playing a bigger role when patients started dying. 

The inquest is sitting virtually in the Gauteng High Court in Pretoria to determine if anyone could be charged criminally for the deaths of 144 patients who were moved from Life Esidimeni to NGOs.  The mental healthcare patients died of hunger and neglect.  

Lebethe was confronted about a 2015 email from former health MEC Qedani Mahlangu in which she asked him to take a leadership role in the project.

Mahlangu asked Lebethe to get the department's lawyers to respond to concerns from the SA Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) about the patients' safety during the moves. 

SADAG wanted the moves to be postponed and a proper plan was then drawn up.  

Asked whether he admitted that he played a central role in the project, Lebethe said: "Although that may have been the mandate, as I have explained earlier on, the people who had specific responsibilities were those who didn't have broader responsibilities in the running of the department."   

READ | Gauteng health official who was witness in PPE corruption case killed

He said the project was run by the department's mental health head, which, at the time, was Dr Makgabo Manamela. 

Lebethe admitted that according to the department's hierarchy, he was in charge of the project, but continued to deny that he played a major role.

He said he was "accessible to the team".     

The inquest continues. 

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