Maverick Citizen


More Life Esidimeni memory lapses by former Gauteng health head Barney Selebano

More Life Esidimeni memory lapses by former Gauteng health head Barney Selebano
Former Gauteng health head Barney Selebano. (Photo: Gallo Images / The Times / Moeletsi Mabe)

Gauteng’s former health department head has backtracked on claims that a lack of funds was the reason for terminating the Life Esidimeni contract.

The former head of the Gauteng health department, Dr Barney Selebano, testified that when he signed the implementation plan to have patients moved from Life Esidimeni, he found it to be “an agreeable plan that has submitted to the executive, [meaning] we are agreeing with the plan”.

Selebano said this during cross-examination by advocate Nasreen Rajab Budlender at the Life Esidimeni inquest on Wednesday and Thursday.

Budlender is acting on behalf of the families of 44 mental health patients who died after they were moved from Life Esidimeni facilities to ill-equipped NGOs.

Budlender reminded Selebano that he had said the patients were moved because there was not enough money to continue the contract, yet then Gauteng finance MEC Barbara Creecy had testified at the Life Esidimeni arbitration in 2017 that the pressure to reduce spending had been only on non-core services.

Budlender said Creecy had, in fact, said there was “over spending in 2014/15 and under expenditure in 2015/2016 of R60-million, but couldn’t pay Life Esidimeni”.

“I didn’t follow the MEC’s presentation… when you talk about non-core, what are you talking about?” responded Selebano, saying it was difficult to determine what core and non-core expenditure were.

‘A process of revenue enhancement’

Selebano subsequently backtracked on his assertion that the contract with Life Esidimeni was terminated because of costs. Instead, he described it as “a process of revenue enhancement… to say, how do we spend what we have efficiently”.

Budlender asked why there was such a rush to move the patients to NGOs, to which Selebano responded that it was not a rushed job.

“There had been discussions as far back as April 2015. The rush, perhaps you will say, it was when I signed the termination notice, but there had been discussions with stakeholders as far back as April 2015. If we take the period from September to end of March, and then extend it by three months to the end of June… I don’t know I would say it was a rush.”  

Selebano conceded that he was aware of concerns about the movement of patients by organisations like the SA Depression and Anxiety Group (Sadag), Section27 and the SA Organisation of Psychiatrists.

Selebano said he was unaware of deaths [of patients] until media reports in August 2016, but Budlender said Sadag had sent him a letter in June warning that people were about to be moved from Waverly.

“She [Cassie Chambers] doesn’t say where are the deaths, who died… I didn’t want to quarrel with the letter if she says that,” replied Selebano, adding that he had indicated his colleague would follow up and the project leader, Levy Mosenogi, would report back to him.

‘Did not remember’

However, Selebano said he did not remember whether Mosenogi had reported back to him. Selebano also said he did not remember raising the matter with then Gauteng Health MEC, Qedani Mahlangu. 

“You were the head of the department… you were the accounting officer, but that doesn’t mean you’re just responsible for finances,” said Budlender. 

“My difficulty is that you, as the head of department, receive a letter like this, telling you that people you have transferred somewhere are dying… that there’s not enough food, not enough accommodation, and you do nothing. You say, deal with the project leader,” said Budlender.

Selebano replied; “I don’t think that’s fair when you say, do nothing… you are now expecting that I must go to this NGO, check that NGO, but there are colleagues… who do these things for me.”

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Judge Mmonoa Teffo pressed Selebano about whether he was ever provided with a report on following up on the letter. Selebano said he could not recall whether he did, and that he could not say whether he told the project leader to take action. 

The inquest was adjourned and will resume on 17 October with cross-examination of Gauteng’s former head of mental health, Makgabo Manamela, who failed to testify last week, citing ill health. 

The inquest will determine if anyone should be held criminally liable for the deaths of 144 mentally-ill patients relocated from Life Esidimeni facilities to various NGOs in 2016. DM/MC


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Johan Buys says:

    Half of what has been spent on legal fees on this tragedy would have paid for the patients to survive…

    • Malcolm McManus says:

      True, and probably one of the worst human rights scandals this country has ever seen. The ANC leadership are as bad as the apartheid regime, if not worse.

  • Jeroen Dubbelman says:

    Let’s be blunt! Life Esidimeni a non-profit organization was run by white people and this did not sit well with health officials. We have gone from apartheid race based politics to ANC race based politics. Will it ever stop?

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