MAVERICK CITIZEN

Former Gauteng health official admits involvement in transfer of Life Esidimeni mental patients

By Zukiswa Pikoli 14 September 2021

Marie Collitz holds a picture of her husband at the Life Esidimeni Hearings in Johannesburg. (Photo: Joyrene Kramer)

Dr Richard Lebethe had previously denied involvement in the transfer of the mental health patients, 144 of whom later died.

Zukiswa Pikoli

After testifying that he was not involved in the Marathon Project of transferring patients from Life Esidimeni to NGOs, on Tuesday the former deputy director-general of the Gauteng Department of Health (GDoH), Dr Richard Lebethe, conceded that he had been involved, at the instruction of the former MEC for Health Qedani Mahlangu. 

Legal counsel representing Levy Mosenogi, the GDoH chief planning director, attempted to show that Lebethe had in fact been involved in the project to transfer mental health patients from Life Esidimeni to ill-equipped NGOs, where 144 of the patients died. Lebethe had previously denied this. 

Mosenogi’s counsel read out an email from Mahlangu addressed to Lebethe, stating that the then head of department, Dr Barney Selebano, and Lebethe had to “drive this process to provide leadership, these NGOs are dishonest”, referring to the South African Depression and Anxiety Group taking the GDoH to court. Lebethe conceded this, but maintained that he was not actively involved. 

Lebethe said that concerns and warnings raised by Life Esidimeni officials about patient relapses as well as “adjustment challenges” were escalated to Selebano.  

Lebethe said that it was the responsibility of the head of department to have brought the challenges that were being experienced regarding the transferring of patients to Mahlangu. 

Judge Mmonao Teffo asked Lebethe whether he ever reported concerns raised by members of the project team about the transfer of patients to former Gauteng head of mental health Dr Makgabo Manamela, whom Lebethe had indicated was leading the project.  

“The truth is no other people were given the responsibility because some of the things demanded that I attend to them,” responded Lebethe. 

Mosenogi’s legal counsel said that her client would testify that there was a meeting between Mahlangu, Mosenogi, Lebethe, Selebano and other senior GDoH officials, where the possible retention of the Life Esidimeni Baneng care centre was discussed. 

Mosenogi said he became so agitated when trying to convince Mahlangu to retain the care centre, that Lebethe patted him on the back, saying “Gontse Mosenogi, gontse [It’s enough, Mosenogi, it’s enough].” Lebethe, however, told the inquest he had no recollection of the incident. 

The inquest is set to continue until 17 September. DM

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All Comments 5

  • The officials who were responsible for this shocking treatment of the most vulnerable in our society should be locked up for life but, unfortunately, this is South Africa. Just shrug your shoulders and say ‘I cannot remember’ and ‘wasn’t me’ and then wait to be transferred to a higher post or a different department. It’s sickening. Arrogance and no accountability.

  • And the most despicable of all, Qedani Mahlangu doesn’t give a toss because she knows that there will be no consequences. Clearly the Hippocratic oath means as much to them as the oath of office they take when being sworn in as ministers.
    At risk of repeating myself, why does nobody mention Aaron Motsoaledi? He was minister of health at the time and this happened under his watch, not to mention the total downward spiral of the health system, patients who died (and continue to do so) because of lack of cancer treatment etc. etc.
    And one of my favourite bugbears, the use of the word “challenge” by all these deniers. When I see this word being used by them I always mentally replace it with “catastrophe of note”! Somebody give them a dictionary PLEASE!

  • Wonder if anyone has laid complaints with the health practitioners council (HPCSA) against the doctors & other professionals? Do they not swear the Hipocratic oath (“do no harm”)?

  • Qedani Mahlangu should be jailed for life. Culpable homicide charges for 144 victims.
    As well as every single other person involved in this travesty.
    An example must be made of these inhumane corrupt ANC criminals.

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