Mahlangu's three-day testimony left the families of Life Esidimeni patients in tears to the point that they ultimately staged a walk out. (Oupa Nkosi)

#LifeEsidimeni: Five of the most unbelievable things Qedani Mahlangu said

Nelisiwe Msomi
Did the former MEC move from playing the blame game to playing the victim?

The woman who said she was trained to “detonate a hand grenade and dismantle an AK-47” as an anti-apartheid activist proved she was as adept at evading questions under cross-examination as she might have been dodging bullets in the struggle.

Arbitration proceedings, which continue on Tuesday, are set to uncover how 143 former Life Esidimeni mental health patients lost their lives after being moved to nongovernmental organisations during her tenure as Gauteng health MEC.

But Qedani Mahlangu’s three days on the stand yielded little information about the tragedy. Here are some of Mahlangu’s most shocking responses to questions put to her.

1. Mahlangu is still mystified by the cause of the 143 deaths

Advocate Adila Hassim, who represents about 60 Life Esidimeni families, asked Mahlangu about the consequences of cancelling the Life Esidimeni contract.

Hassim: “Do you agree that this decision [to terminate the contract] resulted in the deaths of 143 patients?”

Mahlangu: “I am not a medical doctor or forensic expert, so I don’t know who died of what.”

2. An incredible response to a heartbreaking question

Retired deputy chief justice Dikgang Moseneke asked Mahlangu whether she knew that men and women had been forced to share the same rooms at the Soweto-based NGO Takalani.

“I’m human, I’m likely to forget things,” she said.

It is alleged that several rapes also took place at Takalani, where at least 15 patients died.


3. It seems that when you’re working for the public, it’s pretty unclear to whom you should be accountable

When asked who should take responsibility for the tragedy, she said: “I cannot carry personal blame because I wasn’t working for myself … I was an elected official.”

4. Who did the maths? Well …

Mahlangu and other officials have admitted that about 1 700 long-term state-funded mental health patients were removed from private care at Life Esidimeni to the NGOs to save money.

But when advocate Lilla Crouse from the law body Legal Aid asked Mahlangu whether her department had done a financial analysis before implementing the doomed project, this is how it went down.

Crouse: “Did you do a cost analysis before making this decision as the political head?”

Mahlangu: “I think they did it. I am not sure.”

Crouse: “You aren’t answering my question. Did you ask for it to be done?”

Mahlangu: “What I know is what I have presented.”


5. Is it a bird, is it a plane? No, its a drone

Mahlangu, who says she was met at the airport by special crimes police on her return from London, explains that the South African Police Service may not be the only ones keeping tabs on her.

“Because of Life Esidimeni, I had drones flying over my house yesterday ... I have seen a drone before but cannot explain it. After hovering over my house at some point, it went away.”

Or it’s, you know, that awkward neighbour with no personal boundaries and a new hobby.

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mental healthLife Esidimeni