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:
Department tarnished its own name by causing the death (Could be either murder or culpable homicide) of at least 147 people. https://t.co/ejAQjilctR— Pierre de Vos (@pierredevos) November 27, 2017
Department tarnished its own name by causing the death (Could be either murder or culpable homicide) of at least 147 people. https://t.co/ejAQjilctR
— Pierre de Vos (@pierredevos) November 27, 2017
It's interesting when the powerful who failed to carry out their responsibilities as expected take a victim posture. This is endemic in this administration— Bafana Khumalo (@Mashobane61) November 27, 2017
It's interesting when the powerful who failed to carry out their responsibilities as expected take a victim posture. This is endemic in this administration
— Bafana Khumalo (@Mashobane61) November 27, 2017
Have something to say? Tweet or Facebook us on @Bhekisisa_MG
#LifeEsidimeni: This official may have just thrown Mahlangu under the bus
#LifeEsidimeni: Inside the arbitration hearings
#LifeEsidimeni: What will arbitration mean for the families?
#LifeEsidimeni: Mahlangu’s alleged school confirms no exams scheduled
#LifeEsidimeni: Why seemingly good people came to do very, very bad things
#LifeEsidimeni: Head of NGO tied to 23 deaths was unqualified, unlicensed
#LifeEsidimeni: Former Gauteng Health MEC Mahlangu visited deadly Cullinan NGOs
#LifeEsidimeni: More than a year later, still no prosecutions
[LISTEN] Health MEC: '#LifeEsidimeni families' voices were muffled’
#LifeEsidimeni: Patients still missing after deadly move from state care
Medical doctors and traditional healers often struggle to trust each other. But in this rural KZN community they learned how to work together.
Anna Dahlqvist reflects on a short history of a messy 'problem', or how the world taught you to fear your period.
A 'foreign threat’ could be a convenient boogeyman in an election season where politicians will face questions about their failures. Or not?
Bhekisisa means "to scrutinise" in Zulu
In South Africa, Zulu patients who would like to be thoroughly assessed by a doctor, would ask the physician to "bhekisisa" them.