The Gauteng ANC on Tuesday rejected a provincial integrity committee recommendation and decided not to suspend Qedani Mahlangu and Brian Hlongwa as additional members of its provincial executive committee (PEC) despite the clear allegations against them and the ANC’s need to improve its electoral performance in the province in 2019.
Mahlangu and Hlongwa, both former provincial health MECs, are accused of undermining the system during and causing serious damage to the province’s public health services.
In their respective investigations, retired Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke and Health Ombudsman Professor Malegapuru Makgoba said Mahlangu was one of three central figures behind the Life Esidimeni tragedy that led to the death of at least 144 mental healthcare users, with 1,418 survivors.
Moseneke, who chaired the Life Esidimeni Arbitration, said Mahlangu was aware of the risks of moving patients into NGOs and community care but ignored the warnings that death and torture might occur.
“She acted with impunity thinking that she will get away with murder because the users and their families were vulnerable and poorly resourced. She acted with an ulterior motive that remains concealed even after many days of evidence before the hearing,” said Moseneke.
A Special Investigating Unit (SIU) report released in June 2018 linked Hlongwa and 11 others to R1.2-billion in alleged corruption and fraud while he was health MEC between 2006 and 2009. The report outlines a range of kickbacks, luxury trips and other benefits he received.
The NPA and Hawks are still investigating the matter, a probe which has been defined by lengthy delays.
The ANC’s provincial integrity commission recommended Hlongwa and Mahlangu should not hold public office. On Tuesday Hlongwa resigned from his position as ANC chief whip in the Gauteng legislature, but it appears he will remain an ordinary member of the same legislature. Mahlangu resigned in 2017 when Makgoba’s Life Esidimeni report was released.
“This decision has been informed by the need to resolve the eight-year-long accusations, without having the matter aired in the courts of the country,” said Hlongwa, announcing his resignation.
“Furthermore, the African National Congress is committed to natural justice and my continued stay as chief whip in the GPL would have distracted the movement from its task mobilising our people behind a programme to unite, renew and create jobs,” he continued.
Hlongwa was pressured to resign from his position in the legislature, but in a statement ANC Provincial Secretary Jacob Khawe hinted at fundamental problems in the ANC’s regulations regarding the recommendations to suspend officials.
“The PEC disagreed with these recommendations, as it was the view of the PEC that this is the purview of a constitutional disciplinary committee and not the integrity committee,” he said.
So Mahlangu, after Moseneke effectively found she should be accountable for 144 deaths, and Hlongwa, closely linked to allegations of corruption amounting to R1.2-billion, remain senior party leaders.
“This failure to act has the consequence of protecting Hlongwa and Mahlangu, and entrenching impunity and lack of political will to deal decisively with corruption and mismanagement within their ranks,” said SECTION27, Corruption Watch and Treatment Action Campaign, which all helped expose the Life Esidimeni saga and the deterioration of the provincial health department under Hlongwa.
The DA’s Jack Bloom, who also tried to hold Mahlangu and Hlongwa accountable, said, “The decision by the ANC in Gauteng to retain scandal-plagued Brian Hlongwa and Qedani Mahlangu on their provincial executive committee shows utter moral bankruptcy.”
ANC Gauteng spokesperson Tasneem Motara said the party in the province will watch to see how the ANC nationally acts on issues raised by its integrity commission and take action against the officials if need be.
On Monday, the party’s national integrity commission said officials implicated in the VBS Mutual Bank Scandal, where R2-billion was allegedly looted, should step aside from their public and ANC positions.
But the ANC’s integrity commission has lacked teeth since it was established after the 2012 Mangaung conference and its recommendations could be rejected by the ANC national executive committee (NEC). Former president Jacob Zuma refused to resign after a recommendation by the committee.
The party’s 2018 conference acknowledged the problem. Disciplinary committees are often political and the integrity commission had no enforceable powers.
“Consideration should be given to the two options: whether the decisions of the integrity commission should be binding or whether they should make recommendations to the NEC, thus advisory,” said the ANC’s 2012 Nasrec resolutions.
The ANC has decided on those considerations, which are yet to be made public, and ANC integrity commission chair George Mashamba suggested that whether to adopt the committee’s recommendations will remain the responsibility of the NEC.
“It’s precisely that because they’re recommendations that they [the NEC] must make a decision,” said Mashamba on Tuesday. He added that the integrity committee’s work must be expanded to teach members the values of the party rather than always being reactive.
Christine Nxumalo, spokesperson for the Life Esidimeni family committee, said the ANC was “playing mind games with us”.
She added: “They use technicalities to avoid dealing with issues or to buy themselves some time. They even used their own internal system (integrity commission) to blindside us all from the real issue, which is why did they not haul Mahlangu before a disciplinary committee/commission…
“As families, we (the Life Esidimeni family committee) call on the ANC NEC to overturn the Gauteng PEC’s decision and we demand that they publish the Integrity Commission’s report.”
The ANC has a never-ending respect for due process. While everyone deserves the right to be assumed innocent until proven guilty, the ANC has not created sufficient mechanisms to survive legal scrutiny and distance itself from its members, whom the public already believe are guilty. DM
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