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MENTAL HEALTHCARE TRAGEDY

Life Esidimeni inquest resumes after a month’s delay, GDOH planning director Levy Mosenogi testifies

Family members of the Life Esidimeni victims at the Emoyeni Conference Centre in Johannesburg where the Life Esidimeni arbitration took place on 22 January 2018. (Photo: Gallo Images / Daily Sun / Lucky Morajane)

Gauteng Department of Health Chief Planning Director Levy Mosenogi has told the inquest that he alerted former Gauteng Health MEC Qedani Mahlangu that the Marathon Project to move mental healthcare users to NGOs was not possible in the allocated time frame.

The Life Esidimeni inquest resumed on Monday morning after a month’s delay with testimony from the former deputy director-general of the Gauteng Department of Health (GDoH) Dr Richard Lebethe.

Lebethe concluded his testimony on the Life Esidimeni Marathon Project, in which at least 144 mental healthcare users died in 2016, by stating, “There were no lines between the project and the general running of the programmes of the department. I wasn’t operational in this project, but where I came in was as a member of the executive from time to time.” 

He was followed by GDoH Chief Planning Director Levy Mosenogi, who began his testimony by stating that, “Members of the project teams were responsible managers in their own programmes… they just came on to the team so that I can hear their reports.” 

He said that he expected that any “challenges and problems” would be brought up in the project meetings that were held from time to time. 

The presentation on 26 January 2016 “was highlighting what has been done in terms of the mental healthcare unit and the NGOs that are there”. He denied that the report confirmed readiness.  

He said that his job meant that after receiving feedback from the teams, he would sit with Dr Makgabo Manamela, who was the director of mental health at the GDoH at the time, and compile a report which would be presented to the executive.  

He said he realised by 12 February that it would not be possible to move all the mental healthcare patients by 31 March 2016 as envisaged. 

Mosenogi testified that he had written to MEC Mahlangu while she was on leave to alert her that they would need an extension of six to 12 months to complete the project. However, the inquest heard that it is Mahlangu’s evidence that when she met Mosenogi in person after the email correspondence, he said that a three-month extension would be sufficient. 

life esidimeni inquest
A woman is comforted during the Life Esidimeni arbitration hearing on 16 October 2017 in Johannesburg. (Photo: Gallo Images / Sowetan / Alon Skuy)

“I requested six months to a year and I stated reasons why… but I accepted the extension of three months because it gives us something to work on at least,” responded Mosenogi. 

He said he didn’t remember saying that a three-month extension was sufficient, but accepted it as given by the MEC as well as based on the assurance of the mental health unit that there would be enough beds. 

“If I was not happy I would have asked for an additional extension,” Mosenogi testified. 

Mahlangu’s counsel said that she would testify that she had deferred to Mosenogi and his team’s understanding on the termination of the project because they were “the men on the ground immersed in day-to-day issues from a multi-disciplinary perspective,” which Mosenogi confirmed. 

Mosenogi said that he had suggested that the department purchase two of the mental healthcare facilities because he thought “it would make our work much easier,” to which Mahlangu had responded that “it was not in keeping with the strategy to deinstitutionalise MHCUs [mental healthcare users] capable of deinstitutionalisation, nor was there a budget for this purchase”.  

“My idea was that the money we are using at that point to contract the service providers, some of the money could be used to at least purchase one or two of those facilities, but I was aware that in terms of the decision that was made before I undertook the project, one of the issues that was raised was that of budget constraint,” said Mosenogi.

He testified that he was the only senior official who raised his concerns in writing and expressed his frustrations to the MEC and the then Gauteng health head Dr Barney Selebano, but that clinical psychiatrists had also done so. 

Mosenogi said this was also because of the “dissatisfaction of the families and other stakeholders regarding the impending closure of the Life Esidimeni institution. I thought it was my responsibility because I was put in that position to highlight concerns.” 

The inquest resumes on Tuesday. DM/MC

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  • Surely one of the saddest moments in South Africa’s history, with witness after witness testifying at this inquest and also at the arbitration hearings in 2017 led by Justice Dikgang Moseneke, apart from the numerous investigations by authorities. And yet, still no closure in this tragedy with the death of so many of the most vulnerable of health patients in 2015/16, with the guilty responsible for this still denying such and still walking free. When will it ever end? Or won’t it?

    • Absolutely agree Coen. TRAGIC!
      And my favourite hobby horse.. Where is Aaron Motsoaledi in all of this? He was health minister at the time, but seems his name is never mentioned? Why not? Now safely ensconced at home affairs.
      No consequences yet again and as far as I know, none of the families (or at least very few) have received their court ordered compensation.
      Worse still, a complete lack of caring from the ANC. Inhumane