Maverick Citizen


R77m and counting – taxpayers make lawyers rich for the sins of Qedani Mahlangu and her crew

R77m and counting – taxpayers make lawyers rich for the sins of Qedani Mahlangu and her crew
Former Gauteng health MEC Qedani Mahlangu testifies during the Life Esidimeni arbitration hearings in Johannesburg on 24 January 2018. (Photo: Gallo Images / Sowetan / Alon Skuy)

In a country where ‘resource constraints’ has become the mantra for every state failure, from providing quality basic education to access to healthcare services, R77-million spent so far representing the Life Esidimeni accused is further proof – if proof were needed – of how far the ANC government has departed from caring about, never mind protecting and respecting, the lives of the poor. Yes, there are resource constraints, but only for services for the poor.

Last week, I had to spend R350 to bail a homeless friend out of prison. This was the fine he had to pay for contempt of court after being arrested for missing a court date for a minor drugs possession offence that he claims to be innocent of. The police had found him in the park where he stays and arrested him. He spent several nights at Sun City. Without my intervention  he would have spent quite a few more.

The same week an investigation by my colleague Zukiswa Pikoli at Daily Maverick revealed that the Gauteng department of health (GDoH) has so far spent SEVENTY-SEVEN MILLION RANDS on legal representation for Qedani Mahlangu, Dr Barney Selebano and other former employees of the department. This is for lawyers representing their interests at the inquest being held into the deaths of 144 mental healthcare users at the Life Esidimeni facility in 2016.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Life Esidimeni inquest legal fees have cost Gauteng Health a staggering R77-million and counting

The accused (even though this is an inquest, not a criminal trial, the word fits) are currently witnesses before the Pretoria High Court in an inquest to try to determine whether there is criminal liability for deaths of 144 mental healthcare users, some of whom starved and were tortured while in the care of the GDoH. 

Of course, as with everyone, they have a constitutional right to legal representation before the courts, and to be presumed innocent. This is despite the fact that they have already run up millions in legal bills before the arbitration where former Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Mosenke, in his arbitration award, had the following to say about Mahlangu:

“Her overall conduct… was irrational, inexplicable, highly reckless and led to the death of at least 144 mental healthcare users and 1,418 survivors of the torture at non-governmental organisations. Her stance that she could not reasonably foresee that death might ensue or that MHCUs might be subject to torture is untenable and cannot be believed. She acted with impunity thinking she will get away with murder because the users and their families were vulnerable and poorly resourced. She acted with an ulterior motive that remains concealed even after many days of evidence before the hearing.”  

However, unlike “everyone” they seem to have a VIP right to the best legal representation money can buy. Mahlangu has spurned using attorneys from the office of the State Attorney, a part of the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development, who provides legal services to the state, but which we know is in disarray due to poor funding, mismanagement and corruption. Instead she has private attorneys and one of the best criminal advocates in the country, a silk of silks, whose fees don’t come in at less than R50,000 a day. 

What he is actually charging us for his services we don’t know. 

How the R77-million breaks down we don’t know. 

Whether there is a policy to cap the costs of their legal representation we don’t know. 

How the GDoH will find the money to foot the bill we don’t know. 

By the end of the Life Esidimeni inquest, protecting errant officials with blood on their hands will have cost half the total annual budget of the SAHRC and three-quarters of the total annual salary bill of Legal Aid SA.  

Thus far the Office of the Gauteng Premier, the GDoH and the State Attorney have declined to answer these questions. As a result, Daily Maverick is having to make an application under the Promotion of Access to Information  Act to try to obtain this information. I promise we will tell you eventually.

Over the next two days, the inquest is due to hear the evidence of former premier David Makhura and former finance MEC Barbara Creecy (who have been implicated in the decision to close LE by Mahlangu’s evidence). Their lawyers will now join the others, protecting their interests and racking up further millions. Creecy and Makhura too will no doubt be lawyered up at your expense.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that by the end of the inquest we, the taxpayers, could have paid up to ONE HUNDRED MILLION RANDS in their legal fees.

This is called rubbing salt in the wounds of the dead, the tortured and their families.

Meanwhile, the still-grieving families of the Life Esidimeni disaster have to bear this insult, while they depend on the excellent but cash-strapped legal services of NGOs like SECTION27

You can view portraits of the families here: Life Esidimeni – Portraits 

Meanwhile, whistle-blowers like Martha Ngoye, formerly of Prasa, have to use their own funds, running into debt and financial ruin, to protect themselves from malicious prosecution by their former bosses, who are also using government funds to legally harass them.

Meanwhile, vital institutions like the SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) depend on an annual budget of less than R200-million. 

Meanwhile Legal Aid SA, which has a constitutional mandate to provide legal services to all the indigent of this country (my homeless friend included), has had its budget cut by 15% due to “resource constraints” and fiscal consolidation. In 2020/21, Legal Aid spent an average of R600 on each of the 331,000 poor people’s matters it finalised – less than a fraction of a percent of the budget Mahlangu and crew have used up. That’s a metaphor for how much poor life is valued against privileged and politically connected life.

By the end of the Life Esidimeni inquest, protecting errant officials with blood on their hands will have cost half the total annual budget of the SAHRC and three-quarters of the total annual salary bill of Legal Aid SA. 

Meanwhile, this government, that protects number one – itself – can spend R93-million upgrading ministers’ homes.

In a country where “resource constraints” has become the mantra for every state failure, from providing quality basic education to access to healthcare services, this is further proof – if proof were needed – of how far the ANC government has departed from caring about, never mind protecting and respecting, the lives of the poor. Yes, there are resource constraints, but only for the poor. In ANC land it’s one law – and the best lawyers – for the blue light brigade (even if fallen from grace, they are still comrades after all) and hell and penury for the rest of us. 

The 2024 election couldn’t come fast enough. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Lisbeth Scalabrini says:

    If the delinquent officials had to pay their lawyers out of their own pockets, there would most likely be less breach of law. Certainly something has to be done to change this truly unjustifiable setup.

  • Ritchie Morris says:

    Disgusting. Just a pity that the voting masses don’t get to know about this and the chance to read this article. Perhaps it can be made available to the Sowetan and the rural newspapers. Ahhh sorry for the sarcasm, but very few are able to read and comprehend the message. How convenient for the (non-) leaders.

  • Ian Gwilt says:

    Oink, Oink

  • Hermann Funk says:

    Sometimes I believe that only a true revolution can safe this country.

  • Tracy Smith says:

    I feel so sad and enraged by these articles and at the same time so grateful for DM and the journalists who bring them to us no matter how soul destroying it must be to do so. Hard to write, hard to read and harder to live.

  • William Kelly says:

    What appalls me is that the lawyers take the cases and the money. They plunder without conscience. You can spin this anyway you like as a lawyer but the fact remains, you’re as dirty as the people you defend, and you cannot claim ignorance or a moral high ground. Shame. Shame. Shame.

    • Lesley Young says:

      Let’s hope SARS is watching the tax returns of these lawyers!

    • Etienne Theron says:

      Advocates Code of Conduct: 26.2 Counsel shall not refuse to accept briefs in an area of practice in which they profess to practise or in a court in which they profess to practise on the grounds
      that they disapprove of the client or of the client’s opinions or alleged conduct or
      because of any disregard in which such person might be held.

  • Bruce Anderson says:

    We really need to revisit a few of the rules
    around litigation involving politicians and public servants, perhaps
    limiting unsuccessful legal challenges to two before you are on your
    own dime, or having mandatory arbitration clauses where
    representations are limited with regards to both time and the quantity of supporting
    documents (with prescribed minimum font sizes). In the Public Protector case, she was
    appointed on 15 October 2016 (by Zuma) and suspended on 22 June 2022
    (by Ramadozer), giving her 2,076 days in office. There are 65,000 pages (and counting) of
    record relating to the case which gives over 30 pages of “documentation” for
    each day she was in office (excluding weekends, around 44). No wonder the lawyers love this country.

  • Scott Gordon says:

    The stable door has been open for years .
    One just has to have a sense of humour 🙂
    Locked up at Sun City , so plebian 🙂
    I got locked up at “Sun City ” after watching the classic golf tourney , so much for a night at the casino with my G/f . Separate cells 🙂
    Same when we got transferred to local magistrate prison , next day .
    So one night in a cell with over 30 other dudes , as the only white guy , was a bit of a celebrity , even better that my G/f was a lady of colour .
    This was mid 80’s , I was placed in the corner , no bedding on a concrete floor , my buddies in the cell made a cordon to protect me , and asked nothing !.Maji dismissed the charges .
    Do the crime , pay the time .
    If the taxpayer is paying me and my defense , why worry ?
    Lets be honest for a change .
    We have these huge cases , try and convict them on a few.
    No incentive for lawyers to charge less !

  • Sydney Kaye says:

    Even if the state is obliged to pay for. Defence in what basis can the defendant reject a qualified lawyer and select her own privare and top price one instead. And to compound the costs, one who apparently is able to charge what he likes. The indigent who can call on legal aid as a constitutional right are obliged to take what is on offer.

  • Matsobane Monama says:

    Within the ANC there’s something called ANC Dr’s Forum. Dr’s playing politics instead of looking after the health of their patients. Hippocratic Oath, first do no harm, if Dr Manamela and Selebano said NOPE to Mahlangu’s plan to move those patients none of this would have happened. Just like Dr Wouter Basson and the two Dr’s who left Steve
    Biko to die in a cold cell, they all served their political masters @ the expense of the sick. The HPCSA must go after them and remove them from this noble profession.

  • jguigard says:

    South Africa will not go bankrupt for the Guptas, the Zumas, the bribes by hundreds of suppliers at Eskom, the ANC and their supporters destroying SAA, the Railways, the Post Office, and all the other Public entities.
    South Africa will go bankrupt thanks the the lawyers of this country. The British Empire created a legal system pretending that anybody had the right to ask a Judge to upheld and recognise his rights. But, at the same time, in order to avoid any risk, the British Empire made the system impossible to be used. Only the British system requires that anybody going to Court MUST appoint and pay TWO lawyers, one who listens to the citizen’s problem, the attorney, and one who explains the problem to the Judge, the advocate. Why nobody else in the world need two lawyers instead of only one?
    And on top of this, the lawyers in SA feel they HAVE THE RIGHT to charge any second of their time to anybody who has the misadventure to walk into their office. If you ask “how are are you” you have already spent some R100, hoping the lawyer does not answer otherwise he may feel he can charge you for an opinion. How many billions of trillions of fantastillions US dollars will all the trails against the thousands of thieves the Zondo Commission has evidenced will cost the taxpayer? It is of the utmost importance that the system gets changed with no delay! And it must imposed that the lawyers stop charging for any single second they pretend they have spent on each client’s case.

  • Hilary Morris says:

    This whole spending money – by the shipload – on the crooked and the incompetent has gone beyond unbelievable into complete insanity. From dodgy lawyers to million rand kitchen makeovers, this government is drunk on “our turn to eat.” Making it worse is that it is “our” people who suffer the most.

  • jentul2 says:

    Left my beloved SA because of this case. We are parents of an adult intellectually disabled daughter. If the state could show such disdain and lack of accountability towards the most vulnerable, she would never be safe when we are no longer around to advocate for her. The sheer arrogance and entitlement of Mahlangu was so evident at the public inquest and yet she was subsequently elected by the ANC into another position of public office. There is a special place in hell for her! Thank you Mark Heywood.

  • Marianne McKay says:

    How is it possible that my taxes are supporting these negligent, lazy and corrupt people and not improving education, hospitals, roads? It beggars belief.

  • Tim Spring says:

    This person essentially killed >100 vulnerable people and is now helping empty state coffers. Immoral.

  • Michael Hayman says:

    Unfortunately there are so many in the ANC voter base that are uneducated, that they never get to hear or read about cases like this.

  • Hermann Funk says:

    According to Minister Barbara Creecy, Mahlangu is lying. Why is she not in jail????

  • Dee Bee says:

    First, thanks Mark for highlighting this grotesque abuse of taxpayer money, by a grotesque coterie of scum, including their lawyers. Unconscionable, every single one of them. Second, if Barbara Creecy is correct and Mahlangu’s department routinely underspent its budget, then she lied to the court and must have charges laid against her for this. Third, if found guilty of lying (presumably under oath?), she must be forced to pay every cent of her legal fees out of her own pocket for knowingly abusing the system. Take her pension, sell her house, car, jewellery and everything else she owns, I don’t care, but I for one am sick of having to work 14 hours a day to pay for this abuse.

  • Change is good sa says:

    Please deliver us from the ANC come the elections next year.
    South Africa, use your precious vote to get rid of this scourge.

  • Dee Bee says:

    Before getting outraged at this – save yourself the energy – just always remember that Mduduzi Manana, a convicted woman beater, got the second most votes at the ANC NEC election last year. Another convicted criminal, Andile Lungisa, came in 11th, despite a conviction for assault (smashing a water jug over someone’s head), whilst Gupta ally Malusi Gigaba came 7th. The top 11 are all male, headed by Sihle Zikalala, who stole a water truck to provide his private residence with water during the floods last year, followed by Manana and Ronald Lamola (don’t think he’s been fingered for anything?). Mdumiseni Ntuli, supporter of Zuma and Zandile Gumede is next, followed by Bheki Cele (enough said) and Senzo Mchunu. Pule Mabe (fraud and money laundering allegations), Zizi Kodwa (‘benefits’ from corrupt company EOH – Zondo recommended he be removed six months before hte conference) and David Makhura (singularly useless Gauteng Premier for a decade, wrecking the province completely during his tenure, round out the top 10.

    And you expect anything decent from the ANC?

  • Chris 123 says:

    R77 Million that could have been used to prop up broken hospitals, does the ANC ever end, it’s a free for all under Ramapussy.

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