Suspended head of Gauteng mental health services Makgabo Manamela said he privacy and dignity had been violated after she was forced to publicly provide reasons as to why she called in sick on her second day of testifying.

#LifeEsidimeni: 'The media was out to tarnish the image of the department'

Nelisiwe Msomi
Makgabo Manamela is one of three officials implicated by the health ombud in the tragedy. Here’s a snapshot of her testimony during arbitration.

Makgabo Manamela headed up mental health services in Gauteng when the department removed more than 1 300 mental health patients from state-funded care at Life Esidimeni facilities. These patients were sent to 27 unlicensed community organisations, and the death toll among them has soared from 36 to 143 in little more than a year.

A subsequent investigation by the health ombud identified three senior officials as the “decision-makers and implementers” behind the relocation project: former Gauteng health MEC Qedani Mahlangu, suspended head of health Barney Selebano and Manamela.

Manamela is the first of the trio to take the stand at arbitration hearings into the ill-fated project. In a process in which few officials have taken any responsibility for their part in the deadly experiment, we thought we’d heard it all. But here are five things that dropped even our jaws:

1. The hard job of finger pointing? Advocate Adila Hassim, formerly of social justice organisation Section27, is working with the non-profit to represent almost 60 families of Life Esidimeni patients. Hassim questioned Manamela about her roles and responsibilities:

Hassim: “How does government work? You point fingers at each other?”

Manamela: “Oh yes!”

2. When things got a little too literal: When Hassim asked Manamela whether she prioritised patient rights when people were removed from Life Esidimeni care, Manamela maintained she did. Then this exchange occurred:

Hassim: “Why did 143 people die?”

Manamela: “I don’t know. I don’t have the postmortems.”

3. Hear no evil, see no evil: When evidence leader advocate Nonhlanhla Yina asked Manamela to respond to accusations made against her by previous witnesses, Manamela replied with this gem:

“I am here to answer what I know, not what you were told.”

4. Oh, was that summons for me? Then there was that letter from the South African Police Services (SAPS) she forgot to tell retired Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke, who is presiding over the hearings, about:

Moseneke: “When I asked you if SAPS had contacted you, why didn’t you say ‘yes, through a letter’? Why did you just say no?”

Manamela: “It just slipped my mind.”

5. That time Manamela seemingly invoked “fake news”: Finally, she revealed who she thought was to blame for Life Esidimeni tragedy.

Manamela: “The media was out to tarnish the image of the department during this project.”

Because who needs a bunch of journalists asking questions about missing patients or deadly nongovernmental organisations?

And here are some of our favourite reader responses via Twitter:

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Life Esidimeni