by Jack Bloom MPL, DA Gauteng Shadow MEC for Health
Madam Speaker, in his report on the Life Esidimeni arbitration process Justice Dikgang Moseneke said as follows: “This is a harrowing account of the death, torture and disappearance of utterly vulnerable mental health care users in the care of an admittedly delinquent provincial government.”
Note his description of “an admittedly delinquent provincial government.”
The horror of the transfer is described as follows:
“The patients were loaded on busses or open trucks and driven to NGOs unknown to the patients or their families. Patients tightly held their meagre personal belongings … some were conveyed with their hands or feet or both tied.”
144 patients died under unlawful circumstances, and 1418 other patients were “exposed to torture, trauma and morbidity … but survived”, and 44 patients are still missing.
Justice Moseneke found that former Health MEC Qedani Mahlangu, and her senior health officials should have foreseen that death and torture would result from a highly reckless scheme.
The broader issue is the accountability of the provincial government that enabled their dastardly actions.
The Honorable Premier has apologized and said that he accepts full accountability and responsibility for what happened.
He did not say indirect responsibility, he did not say partial responsibility, he said fullresponsibility.
It seems to me that if you accept full responsibility for anything, especially deaths on a vast scale, then you must obviously resign.
This is what happens in other democracies for far lesser failures.
For instance, in 2008 the entire Belgian government resigned over a legal scandal linked to the break-up of a bank.
In 2010, the Japanese Prime Minister resigned because he broke a campaign promise to close the American military base on the island of Okinawa.
But Premier Makhura thinks that the lives lost are so cheap and inconsequential that he can accept full responsibility but still remain in office.
It’s an insult to those who died and their families.
The Honorable Premier has said that he “would have never approved a plan to outsource mental health, a primary responsibility of the state to care for the vulnerable in society, to NGOs.”
This House is the witness that this claim is not true.
I refer to the Hansard record of proceedings on 15 March 2016.
In reply to my questions, then Health MEC Qedani Mahlangu said that the NGOs had hired staff and had been given licenses, and she was confident that 1835 patients would be moved by the end of June.
I replied that I was very concerned about this whole process and she said “I think member Bloom must be honest that he is the only one who is concerned.”
She referred to the court judgement that day in favor of the department placing 54 adult patients at the Takalani NGO despite the fact that this was a facility for children.
She said there was nothing wrong with this as “they are exactly more or less the same intellectual disability of the same people who are at Takalani.”
We now know that one of the first patients to die was Ms Deborah Phetla, who died on 26 March 2016 at Takalani, a mere 10 days after Mahlangu lied to the Legislature that everything was fine.
The post-mortem report showed that she had brown paper and plastic in her stomach because she had not been fed.
Conditions were so bad at Takalani that two patients got typhoid and one woman was allegedly raped.
It was one of 5 deadly NGOs associated with 72% of all the deaths.
There were so many warnings about the potential tragedy that you would have had to be blind and deaf not to notice.
There was a torrent of media reports, representations from professional bodies, demonstrations and two court cases.
And in this House I warned repeatedly about the looming disaster.
The Hansard record of 15 March 2016 shows that the Honorable Premier was present in this House when Qedani Mahlangu spoke about the NGOs, including Takalani, where the patients were going to be sent.
I cannot see how, in the face of this and other evidence, the Honorable Premier can claim that he did not know that patients were going to NGOs rather than other state facilities, as he said repeatedly under oath at the Esidimeni arbitration hearings.
I am going to give the Honorable Premier an opportunity today to explain how he could have sat through Mahlangu’s reply to my questions on 15 March 2016, and not known that patients were being sent to NGOs.
He can use Rule 90 (1) on a point of personal explanation.
The Honorable Premier has said that I have questioned his integrity, which he takes very seriously.
This is your chance, Honorable Premier, to explain how you could somehow ignore what Mahlangu said on 15 March 2016 in this very House to which you are accountable.
If you don’t take this opportunity now, in this House, then your silence will count against you.
You will not be honourable, despite the convention of this House when addressing other members.
We need to know the truth. Either you did know and failed to act, or you were incredibly negligent in ignoring the signs of disaster that everyone else could see.
To say “I didn’t know” is the tired excuse that was firmly rejected by Justice Moseneke when others tried to wriggle out of accountability.
But the Honourable Premier is culpable in another way because of his failure to fire Qedani Mahlangu and her top officials immediately after the first deaths became known on 13 September 2016.
I stood up repeatedly in this House and said she should be fired.
I counted the days she had not been fired on my twitter account.
I showed placards like this one calling for her to go.
And I was viciously attacked for this by Qedani Mahlangu supporters, including the Honourable MEC Jacob Mamabolo.
According to Justice Moseneke, between September 2016 and the release of the Ombud’s report on 1 February 2017, when Qedani Mahlangu finally resigned, an additional 42 people died.
Please note – 42 people died who could have lived, but Qedani Mahlangu and her officials were still in charge and covering up their nefarious work.
They could have been saved if she was replaced earlier.
We have yet to receive an honest explanation from the Honourable Premier why he did not fire Mahlangu as soon as the deaths became known.
This must be the burden of his personal guilt.
Furthermore, this entire ANC provincial government was complicit in the preventable disaster that led to 144 deaths and the suffering of many others.
Why did other MECs not speak up when the warning signs were so obvious?
Why did the ANC MPLs not do anything when Qedani Mahlangu made statements that should have caused huge concern?
She would not accept individual accountability because she said that it was a collective decision.
According to the Constitution, MECs are accountable collectively and individually to the Legislature for the exercise of their powers and the performance of their functions.
So Qedani Mahlangu has to accept her individual accountability, but the collective aspect also applies.
The ANC often says it does things as a collective.
There is a strong case for a collective accountability of all ANC members in this House for the Esidimeni disaster.
Did any of you speak up within the ANC? Please tell us what you did or did not do to prevent this ANC provincial government killing defenseless people.
The only reason that R1 million in constitutional damages is being paid to each claimant is because Justice Moseneke has forced it on you.
This provincial government only wanted to pay common law damages, a position that Justice Moseneke described as “remarkably retrogressive”.
This provincial government, and the Premier in particular, have grievously failed the people of this province.
If they had any integrity, honesty or accountability, they would account for the lives that were lost, and the immense suffering of others, by supporting this motion of no confidence.
Vote with your conscience, vote in memory of lives cruelly taken away by a cruel government.