'We shouldn’t be doing this to our people' - Life Esidimeni project head details pleas for help

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Levy Mosenogi said he joined the project when it was already on the move.
Levy Mosenogi said he joined the project when it was already on the move.
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  • Life Esidimeni project head Levy Mosenogi says he asked for the project to be pushed back by between six months to a year. 
  • He found out through the media that he had been given a three-month extension.  
  • Mosenogi said he wanted an extension because NGOs were not ready to receive patients. 

The Life Esidimeni project head Levy Mosenogi told the inquest into the deaths of mental health patients how he fought to have the project postponed by between six months and a year.

Mosenogi told the inquest that he wrote emails to former health MEC Qedani Mahlangu asking to postpone the project. 

The inquest is sitting virtually in the Gauteng High Court in Pretoria to determine if anyone can be held criminally liable for the deaths of 144 mental health patients. The Gauteng health department moved patients from Life Esidimeni facilities to ill-equipped NGOs where they died of hunger, neglect, and dehydration. The case is back in court after a six-week adjournment.  

READ | Life Esidimeni: I was not keen to run project, Mosenogi says

During cross-examination, Mosenogi told advocate Nasreen Rajab-Budlender, representing the South African Depression and Anxiety Group and 44 families, that he was worried about sending patients to NGOs that were not equipped.  

The inquest heard that Mosenogi was the only senior health department manager to raise his concerns to Mahlangu in writing. He said he felt it was his responsibility to raise concerns.  

He added:

When I joined the project, there was an indication that there were beds available to move patients from Life Esidimeni to NGOs. Only when I joined the team did I realise that they were not actual beds but projections.

Another worry was that NGO workers had not been trained on how to deal with the patients. 

He said after visiting Life Esidimeni facilities and speaking to families, his concerns were raised further.

"We visited Waverley and Randfontein and Baneng to inform the families about the impending closure of Life Esidimeni institutions. And from those interactions, there was dissatisfaction from the family members. Those things affected me. I thought it was my responsibility to highlight the concerns."

READ | Life Esidimeni project head tells inquest about fight to keep children's facility open

After a meeting with families, he told former health head of department Dr Barney Tiego Selebano that, "... we shouldn't be doing this to our people".

Asked by Rajab-Budlender what he meant, Mosenogi said: "I was capturing my feelings in terms of whether this policy decision was right the way we are doing it. He [Selebano] was also affected by the cry of the families and the desperation of the families." 

Mosenogi said he also wanted the project to slow down so all patients would be given identity documents (IDs).

"Most of the patients were long-term patients. When they were staying at Life Esidimeni, there was no need for IDs because they were catered for everything. To be moved to NGOs, they needed to have IDs. They [NGOs] were using the grant from Sassa to supplement what they get from the government subsidy to care for the patients."

Mosenogi said he found out about being granted a three-month extension from the families who heard it in the media.

"When the three months was offered and relayed to the media, I accepted. It didn't enter my mind to ask for more because I had stated all my reasons why I wanted six months to a year."

He said had he been granted the period he asked for, the project might have been executed more smoothly.

"The pressure on the mental care unit would have been relaxed a little bit in terms of visiting the NGOs that were targeted for new beds. Also, new NGOs would have been trained properly on how to take care of patients. Some of the mistakes that happened might not have happened. I wanted a phased-in programme."    

Mosenogi's cross-examination continues on Tuesday.

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