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Life Esidimeni: Ex-Gauteng mental health director Makgabo Manamela dodges another day at inquest

Life Esidimeni: Ex-Gauteng mental health director Makgabo Manamela dodges another day at inquest
Former Gauteng mental health director Makgabo Manamela has stalled the Life Esidimeni inquest again, this time complaining of headaches and hearing difficulties. (Photos: Gallo Images / Sowetan / Thulani Mbele)

Another day, another attempt by Dr Makgabo Manamela to postpone proceedings which have already been plagued by delays as a result of the unpreparedness of Gauteng health department and NGO witnesses.

After failing to obtain another postponement of her testimony from Judge Mmonoa Teffo on Monday, Dr Makgabo Manamela stalled Life Esidimeni inquest proceedings again on Tuesday – this time owing to “severe headaches” and “hearing difficulties”. 

Manamela’s legal counsel, advocate Russell Sibara, told the inquest his client had, during preparations for her appearance, started feeling unwell at about 11pm and again on Tuesday morning, meaning they were unable to finish. 

Sibara said the headaches and hearing difficulties made it difficult for the former Gauteng mental health director to continue, and therefore asked for the court’s indulgence until Wednesday. 

On Monday, Manamela claimed she had not had sufficient time to prepare and wanted to testify next Monday, 12 September, instead. 

The families of mental healthcare users who died during the Life Esidimeni marathon project have been waiting since 2016 for clarity on what happened to their loved ones, and for those responsible to be brought to justice so that they can get closure. 

Read in Daily Maverick: “Life Esidimeni: Mental health is still the ‘stepchild’ of health and remains underfunded, underresourced

The inquest, which has been plagued by delays and postponements as a result of the unpreparedness of Gauteng health department and NGO witnesses, began on 20 July 2021.

‘Key player’ 

Manamela presided over the project that took patients from Life Esidimeni facilities to ill-equipped and ill-resourced NGOs as part of what the department described as a cost-cutting exercise. More than 140 subsequently died from neglect, starvation, hypothermia and dehydration, among other things.

In January 2022, former deputy director of the department’s mental health directorate, Hendricka Jacobus, said Manamela had the final say in which NGOs would be contracted. She also said that she had submitted a report to Manamela stating that three years were needed to transfer the patients from Life Esidimeni to the NGOs. This had been based on her knowledge of the capacity of existing NGOs, some of which needed to have their capacity “strengthened” in order to be able to take on patients. 

Read in Daily Maverick: “NGOs were unprepared to take on mental healthcare users, testifies former Gauteng health official

During the Life Esidimeni arbitration led by retired Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke, Manamela was characterised as a difficult witness who did not give clear testimony.


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You are throwing a lot of words at me, ma’am. I am asking you very simple questions and I just want to get precise answers. Were the patients moved with their medical records?” said Mosenke during her arbitration testimony on 20 November 2017. He was seeking clarity on whether patients had been moved from Life Esidimeni with their medications and health records.

‘Delaying tactics’

Manamela’s absenteeism and requests for postponements is not new. On her second day she was meant to testify at the arbitration hearing, Manamela called in sick, prompting Moseneke to threaten to issue a warrant of arrest should she not return to testify on the agreed date. The families of the patients did not take kindly to her request either, calling it “delaying tactics”. 

Read in Daily Maverick: “Five years later: More than 144 mental healthcare patients dead and nobody held responsible

Manamela’s testimony is set to be followed by Dr Barney Selebano, who was the head of the department when the patients were transferred, and Qedani Mahlangu, who was Gauteng health MEC at the time. The trio were the most senior government officials involved in the Life Esidimeni tragedy and were identified by Health Ombudsman Malegapuru Makgoba as “key players” in the tragedy. 

The inquest is set to resume on Wednesday at 10am. DM/MC

Gallery

Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Hermann Funk says:

    Why is a disrespectful person like her not picked up by police, put in handcuffs and brought to the hearing?

  • Lesley Young says:

    Has the question ever been asked as to the physical health of the mental patients before their movements? If their medical records did not accompany them to their destinations, who has them now?

  • Anne Felgate says:

    She has learnt from the master at Stalingrading
    She should be forced to come and if indeed she is ill, be examined by a court appointed doctor
    If she fails that test, then she should be held in contempt and jailed
    What has happened is disgusting and there has to be consequences
    How they are still in positions of authority beggars belief
    Outrageous behaviour

  • virginia crawford says:

    Arrest her and bring her to court! What happened to these patients was so cruel that gross negligence doesn’t covet it, but manslaughter does.

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