Suspended Gauteng mental health director Dr Makgabo Manamela called in sick instead of returning to the Life Esidimeni arbitration on Tuesday. It was another blow to the families of the 143 patients who died. By GREG NICOLSON.
Manamela’s performance at the arbitration in Johannesburg on Monday was dismal. On Tuesday morning her advocate, Lerato Mashilane, told Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke she had fallen sick and would not be able to attend the day’s hearing.
Mashilane said the suspended director had been prepared to attend the arbitration on Tuesday but she had suddenly come down with an illness and needed to consult a doctor. Later, he said a doctor advised Manamela to only return on Thursday. Mashilane said he would provide a medical certificate by the end of the day.
Manamela was the first of three top Gauteng health officials to appear at the arbitration and is accused of being responsible for the plan to move patients out of Life Esidimeni into unsuitable NGOs. She refused on Monday to take responsibility for the disaster and regularly contradicted herself, particularly on her claims that the department had an adequate plan in place and had vetted the NGOs before she signed their licences.
Legal teams at the arbitration were frustrated by Manamela’s no-show, especially after she delayed proceedings on Monday by three hours in a failed attempt to postpone her appearance.
Section27’s Advocate Adila Hassim noted that a medical certificate had not been produced. “There’s no explanation as to why she didn’t go to the doctor yesterday or this morning,” said Advocate Dirk Groenewald representing Solidarity. “Dr Manamela is not treating these proceedings with the respect that they deserve, or the families.” He said there was no evidence to justify Manamela’s failure to appear.
After an adjournment, Hassim said: “We were hoping that in the time we agreed to stand down we’d have a medical certificate produced.” She said it was a criminal offence for a witness to fail to appear at an arbitration. The penalty is a fine or imprisonment. Manamela had been subpoenaed on 2 November to appear but on Monday claimed she wasn’t prepared.
“It is causing some stress that they are being disrespected and it is a sense of repeat disrespect,” said Hassim, adding that the families “are taking some strain from the non-attendance from this witness”.
Moseneke told Manamela’s counsel: “Many, many people who are here are grieving and would like to find closure and the best way of finding it is witnesses telling them what happened.” He ordered a warrant to be issued for Manamela’s arrest, which would be suspended until Thursday, to ensure she appears at the arbitration if she tries to resist returning.
Relatives of patients attending the hearing were visibly angered by Manamela’s failure to appear. They sang outside the arbitration while waiting for word on Manamela’s appearance. “It cannot be that when they want to adjust the first people they can look to, the first people that they can target is the (mentally ill patients),” said Victoria Banzi, whose brother Mkhanyiseli Mangqasana died. She called for answers and criticised the health department for sacrificing the treatment of patients to cut costs: “The government cannot use these people for the budget.” Other relatives remained resolute, believing that despite the setback they will get the truth.
The arbitration continued on Tuesday. Andrew Peterson testified about his uncle who was moved to the Matshekgo NGO in Krugersdorp. When Peterson visited, he found his uncle was hungry, dirty and hadn’t been given his medication.
Asked why, Peterson said: “I think it’s just indicative of this whole project – neglect, not caring. Same as what we saw today – people not caring, people not turning up, disrespecting the judge and the justice system as a whole.” DM
Photo: Family members of the 143 patients who died after being moved from Life Esidimeni were angered by suspended Gauteng director of mental health services Makgabo Manamela’s no-show at the Life Esidimeni arbitration on Tuesday. Photo: Greg Nicolson
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