MENTAL HEALTHCARE SCANDAL
Life Esidimeni – judge brushes aside ex-Gauteng health official’s bid to delay hearing
The judge says there is nothing new in Dr Makgabo Manamela’s affidavit, and that another postponement of the Life Esidimeni Inquest would not be ‘in the interest of justice’.
The Life Esidimeni Inquest was meant to resume with former Gauteng mental health director, Dr Makgabo Manamela – a key witness – taking the stand on Monday. However, at the 11th hour she sent through a request for postponement, saying she was not ready to appear.
“Due to the volume of the record I cannot (sic) only do this exercise from midnight to take advantage of data bundles after hours,” she said.
She also said she was unable to complete and send her evidence notes to her team, and that on 30 August she realised she would not be able to make the 5 September deadline. She suggested that Dr Barney Selebano, who was head of department at the Gauteng health department at the time, take the stand in her place.
The evidence leader, legal counsel for Selebano, legal counsel for former health MEC Qedani Mahlangu and legal counsel representing the families of the patients who died during the marathon transfer of mental healthcare users from Life Esidimeni, opposed the application, saying that most of the documentation that Manamela would have had to go through had been available since at least June 2022 for her to peruse in time for her testimony.
The legal counsel added that further postponements would be costly.
Read in Daily Maverick: “Former Gauteng health official denies being part of decision-making team in Life Esidimeni tragedy”
Manamela’s legal counsel said they were also submitting their application for postponement in accordance with Section 34 of the Constitution, which states: “Everyone has the right to have any dispute that can be resolved by the application of law decided in a fair public hearing before a court or, where appropriate, another independent and impartial tribunal or forum.”
Judge Mmonoa Teffo said she was “not going to give a long ruling”, adding that when the matter was adjourned on 17 August, the court granted the postponement and ruled that the matter continues on Monday.
“I want to align myself with submissions with regards to Section 34 of the Constitution,” the judge said. “Parties are confusing an inquest and criminal proceedings. We have always said it is not a criminal trial, it is an inquest.”
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Teffo said that looking at the affidavit submitted by Manamela, she didn’t see anything new that had come up which would justify a postponement.
“This inquest has been sitting for almost a year now. I am of the view that counsel has been given sufficient and ample opportunity in order to be ready to proceed this matter. Furthermore it is in the interest of everyone that this inquest be brought to finality. Further postponements create further problems.
“It is not in the interest of justice to grant a further postponement on this matter” said the judge, who ruled that the inquest would resume as scheduled on Tuesday.
In his report on the Life Esidimeni marathon project in 2016, Health Ombudsman Professor Malegapuru Makgoba identified Manamela as one of the central people involved in the project as a “cost-cutting” initiative, and who also approved licences for the ill-equipped NGOs where patients died, something she did not have the power to do.
During the Life Esidimeni arbitration in 2017, which came as a result of Makgoba’s report and was presided over by retired deputy chief justice Dikgang Moseneke, he said that “maybe you didn’t care‚ you signed whatever you signed‚ you forget it was about people who had blood and flesh” when Manamela refused to take responsibility for the approval of the NGOs.
The inquest resumes on Tuesday at 10am. DM/MC