Maverick Citizen


Life Esidimeni inquest legal fees have cost Gauteng Health a staggering R77 million and counting

Life Esidimeni inquest legal fees have cost Gauteng Health a staggering R77 million and counting
Relatives and the public gather for a prayer vigil in Johannesburg in remembrance of 37 Life Esidimeni psychiatric patients on 27 October 2016. (Photo: Gallo Images / Beeld / Felix Dlangamandla)

Maverick Citizen has since 2021 been trying to ascertain the legal cost implications of witnesses testifying at the Life Esidimeni inquest.

The inquest into the Life Esidimeni tragedy has been going on since July 2021 and is set to continue until 26 May 2023. In that time, the families of those who died have suffered the torment of reliving the pain of losing their loved ones, as witness after witness takes the stand to explain the sequence of events that led to the death of 144 mental healthcare patients.

Since 2021, Maverick Citizen has been trying to ascertain how much the inquest is costing in legal fees.

Last week, Gauteng Department of Health (GDoH) spokesperson Motalatale Modiba said the matter was being handled by the Office of the Gauteng Premier. However, the Office of the Premier’s spokesperson, Vuyo Mhaga, said the matter was being handled by the Office of the State Attorney in Pretoria.

Life Esidimeni inquest has cost taxpayers a staggering R77m and counting

Former Gauteng Health MEC Qedani Mahlangu testifies at the Life Esidimeni arbitration hearings in Johannesburg on 22 January 2018. (Photo: Gallo Images / Alet Pretorius)

Maverick Citizen put the following questions to the GDoH, the Office of the Gauteng Premier and the Office of the State Attorney:

  • Is the GDoH/Office of the Gauteng Premier/Office of the State Attorney paying the legal costs for the following witnesses: Qedani Mahlangu, Dr Makgabo Manamela, Dr Barney Selebano, Hannah Jacobus, Daphney Ndhlovu, Nonceba Sennelo, Dr Richard Lebethe, Dr Richard Lebethe, Levy Mosenogi, Mr Mothomone Pitsi, Sophie Lenkwane?
  • Are there any additional legal costs associated with the inquest outside the above-mentioned that the Office of the State Attorney is paying for?
  • Please provide a breakdown of the fees the Office of the State Attorney has agreed upon for the legal firms, and senior and junior advocates that are representing the above-mentioned witnesses in the inquest.
  • How much has the Office of the State Attorney disbursed so far in payments for the Life Esidmeni inquest?

Responding to Maverick Citizen’s questions, deputy state attorney Mr KI Chowe responded on behalf of the Office of the State Attorney that they were indeed paying for the legal representation of the above-mentioned witnesses, with the exception of Mothomone Pitsi. 


Protests during the testimony of former Gauteng Health MEC Qedani Mahlangu at the Life Esidimeni arbitration hearings in Johannesburg on 22 January 2018. (Photo: Gallo Images / Sowetan / Thulani Mbele)

Chowe went on to say that “the State Attorney, Pretoria, has disbursed a total amount R77.358.741.31 for the Life Esidimeni Inquest”.

There was no response to a request for a breakdown of legal costs per witness, and whether the Office of the State Attorney engages legal representation at a reduced rate.

Last week saw what was to be the last and much-anticipated witness in the tragedy, former Health MEC Qedani Mahlangu, who concluded her testimony on 11 May. 

During the Life Esidimeni arbitration that was presided over by retired Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke, Mahlangu denied responsibility for the patient deaths, saying that officials presented reports that “all is well”. This prompted an exasperated Moseneke to ask Mahlangu: “But who would appoint this bunch of liars? Every one of them from your position has been untruthful.” 

At the end of Mahlangu’s arbitration testimony, as she proffered an apology to the relatives of the deceased, the family members left the room and could be heard singing outside in protest.

During her testimony at the inquest, Mahlangu maintained that she was not individually responsible for the deaths that occurred during the marathon project transferring the patients as she was “not an implementer and only relied on the reports provided to her by department officials”. 

This is despite evidence from previous witnesses, who were officials of the department at the time, that they alerted Mahlangu of the difficulties patients were facing.

Judge Mmonoa Teffo now wants to hear from former Gauteng premier David Makhura, former Gauteng Finance MEC Barbara Creecy (who will add to the state attorney’s legal fees disbursement) and Professor Lesley Robertson, head of the community psychiatry clinical unit at Sedibeng District Health Service.

During the arbitration, Makhura gave a tearful testimony, telling the families of the deceased: “I apologise because it happened under my watch. I also apologise because there are certain things that I could’ve done.” 

He said he could have intervened as head of the provincial government.

Makhura, Creecy and Robertson are due to appear on 22 May. DM/MC


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Brenda Holtzkampf says:

    It just seems to get worse every day. Most of us are hard working honest citizens that would love to see our country flourish. All our money is going down the drain. My heart bleeds for the homeless and impoverished people, many of whom I know. This is the first comment I’ve ever made, as this article is what broke the camel’s back…

  • Gregory Scott says:

    Is Cadre Deployment, BEE or simply the employment of incompetent politicians responsible for this tragedy?
    What qualified former Health MEC Qedani Mahlangu to be appointed and hold such an important position that if handled in an incompetent way can lead to the deaths of 144 patients??

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