Maverick Citizen


Advocates argue for culpable homicide charges against top health officials for 2015 tragedy

Advocates argue for culpable homicide charges against top health officials for 2015 tragedy
Legal representatives for officials and NGOs implicated in the tragedy presented oral arguments before the Gauteng Division of the High Court in Pretoria on 2 November. From left: Former Gauteng health MEC Qedani Mahlangu, former Gauteng mental health head Dr Makgabo Manamela and owner of Precious Angels NGO Ethel Ncube. (Photos: Gallo Images / Sowetan / Alon Skuy / Gallo Images / Sowetan / Thulani Mbele / Gallo Images / The Times / Simphiwe Nkwali)

Lawyers from AfriForum’s private prosecution unit and public interest law centre SECTION27 called for criminal charges against key witnesses in the Life Esidimeni inquest on Thursday.

With the resumption of the Life Esidimeni inquest at the Gauteng Division of the High Court in Pretoria on Thursday, advocates from public interest law centre SECTION27 and AfriForum’s private prosecution unit asked the court to recommend criminal charges against key witnesses.

SECTION27 argued for culpable homicide charges to be instituted against Gauteng Health MEC, Qedani Mahlangu, former Gauteng mental health head, Dr Makgabo Manamela, and the owner of Precious Angels NGO, Ethel Ncube.

“[There are] 141 deaths that are on the docket in this inquest. In other words, what we were talking about is a mass atrocity, and we submit that it would not have occurred if it were not for the conduct of Ms Mahlangu, Dr Manamela and … Ms Ncube,” said Advocate Adila Hassim representing SECTION27.

The purpose of the inquest, which began in July 2021, is to determine liability and cause of the deaths of 141 mental healthcare users who were moved from the Life Esidimeni health facility to non-governmental organisations in 2016. 

They were part of a group of more than 1,500 patients who were transferred out of Life Esidimeni when the Gauteng Department of Health terminated its long-standing contract with the service provider.

Hassim told the court, presided over by Judge Mmonoa Teffo, that the deaths of at least 10 mental healthcare users in the tragedy were closely connected to the conduct of Mahlangu, Manamela and Ncube.

“The first point to make is that Mahlangu made the decision [to terminate the Life Esidimeni contract]. Although she tries to characterise this as a collective decision of the [Gauteng] premier’s budget council, the evidence is to the contrary,” she said.

Mahlangu had oversight of the Life Esidimeni project, said Hassim. 

Other Gauteng health department officials testified to regular meetings with her throughout the process, and she chaired at least five meetings related to the transfer efforts between January and May 2016.

“Mahlangu knew the risks. She knew what was going wrong. She was involved in meetings and discussions and correspondence at all the critical and material times [during] the transfer of the user and after,” said Hassim.

“We say that she’s criminally responsible for the death of the mental healthcare users … because she took the decision to terminate; she insisted on its urgent implementation [and] she failed to stop implementation when she was warned [of the risks] on many occasions, by her own officials and specialists… 

“She had the power and the knowledge to prevent the deaths, but she did not do so.”

Read more in Daily Maverick: Life Esidimeni: Welcome to ‘know nothing’ Qedani Mahlangu’s forgetful world

In the case of Manamela, Hassim argued that she was the “de facto” leader of the project. 

Despite having a PhD in psychiatric nursing, she signed licences for NGOs that had no prior experience in caring for mental healthcare users. Many had not met the basic requirements for licensing, such as having a current service level agreement.

“At least four witnesses who have testified in the inquest … testified that Dr Manamela told them to place the [mental healthcare] users even though the audit [of NGOs] hadn’t been done … because the problems would be dealt with later,” said Hassim.

“This court should not shrink from finding that Manamela has a criminal case to answer.”

Read more in Daily Maverick: ‘I did not withhold information,’ says former Gauteng mental health official implicated in patient deaths

Ncube registered Precious Angels NGO in June 2016, and that same month took on 56 adult mental healthcare users and started operating a 24-hour facility, according to advocate Nasreen Rajab-Budlender, also representing SECTION27.

“Within two weeks of receiving those mental healthcare users, the first person in [Ncube’s] care would die,” she said.

“Another unknown mental healthcare user would die three days after that … and what followed was a fairly consistent stream of deaths until January 2017. 

“So, what we see is a seven-month period where 20 mental healthcare users would die. That is approximately a third of all the mental healthcare users housed in Precious Angels under the care of Ncube.

“Virtually all of those mental healthcare users were emaciated, dehydrated [and] many of them had pneumonia when they died.”

Rajab-Budlender argued that Ncube continued to take on more patients even after it became clear that the Gauteng Department of Health was not delivering the promised resources and training. 

The patients, who had conditions including cerebral palsy, dementia and psychosis, were kept in houses that were not licenced.

“[Ncube] had agency; she was responsible for Precious Angels … at the end of the day, she was the one who made the decision to keep accepting more mental healthcare users,” said Rajab-Budlender.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Portraits of lives lost: Left lying on the floor 

Representing families of four Life Esidimeni victims, advocate Phyllis Vorster of AfriForum’s private prosecution unit argued for murder charges against four former Gauteng Department of Health officials and one NGO owner. 

The four ex-officials were Mahlangu, Manamela, former head of the Gauteng Department of Health, Dr Barney Selebano, and former Deputy Director-General for Mental Health Services, Hannah Jacobus. Dianne Noyile, the NGO owner, ran the Siyabadinga facility where several mental healthcare users died.

Over the next two weeks, other parties will present oral arguments before the court. 

Teffo is expected to rule on whether the conduct of any person contributed to any of the deaths, after which the National Prosecuting Authority will decide whether to prosecute. 

The inquest continues. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Jagdish Makan says:

    They should be charged with murder and sentenced to life imprisonment.
    Do these arrogant people not care about their own? Is it all about arrogance and making money?
    Typical BEE scam where a business is registered weeks before with inside information and collusion with officials. “Let them die, who cares as long as we are raking in the cash”
    I hope the presiding judge makes the right decision. A strong message needs to be sent out to those implicated. Hopefully his guilty verdict will bring comfort to the victims families.

    • ctmarx1 says:

      Until officials are held legally accountable for the harmful consequences of unethical, corrupt and uncaring decisions made with full knowledge of the possible consequences, no one and nothing is safe in SA

      • Con Tester says:

        I would go one further and say that they need to be held legally accountable in their *personal* capacities, not their *official* capacities. That way, they don’t qualify for state legal assistance, which in SA, as history has repeatedly shown, leads only to legal Stalingrad shenanigans and the abuse of taxpayer funds. Should these conscience-bereft monsters be charged in their personal capacities, it will minimise any stalling and delaying tactics because their defence costs will come from their own pockets. It’s high time that the ANC started living up to its “renewal” promises—not that that was ever likely to happen.

  • William Kelly says:

    Absolutely spot on Afriforum. I’m not often a fan, but this cannot go unchallenged. If this were one of my loved ones I would pursue this to the very end.

  • Lordwick Mamadi says:

    Even educated people in the forever corrupt and incompetent cANCer aren’t smart thinkers. Their only goal is to make themselves millionaires out of the money they loot from tax payers. The sad thing is that their voting masses love them rich!!

  • Middle aged Mike says:

    It will be a cold day in hell before a member of the anc nomenkleptokura has served a year in jail. I’m not holding my breath as they have put in a lot of hard yards over the last few decades to make sure that the criminal justice system couldn’t get that right even if it wanted to.

    • Michael Thomlinson says:

      What is so annoying is that these people can commit henious crimes knowing that they can leagally challenge any court ruling against them using money from the public purse. No private individual would be able to afford that sort of thing so we are in a situation where we have an “aristocracy” that has access to public money to keep them out of jail. Look at Zuma; 20 years later and no sign of even a day in court. The ANC is also protecting them by having endless costly hearings etc which are all designed to delay things and keep the individuals out of court.

  • Rae Earl says:

    This case stretches the concept of evil beyond all normal boundaries of comprehension. That care givers of mentally ill patients could possibly allow seriously ill people to die of thirst and starvation without knowing what was happening to them is the behavior of dangerous psycopaths . The loneliness and fear in each of the patients who died can only be imagined. The perpetrators and enforcers of this diabolical crime must be jailed for life.

  • Katharine Ambrose says:

    Truly this was a mass atrocity. If there are no consequences for the perpetrators there will be more deaths at the hands of the negligent the uncaring and the greedy

  • Winston Bigsby says:

    Agreed, jailed for life is too good for them. Imagine the loneliness of those poor souls waiting for their visitors & relatives? “Virtually all of those mental healthcare users were emaciated, dehydrated [and] many of them had pneumonia when they died.” Shocking!!
    Another example of the Comrade Cadre business – she started getting patients (not healthcare users?) in the same month after registering the business?? 56 of those poor souls! Similar to the C-19 scams, lets save that for another day.
    Criminal negligence and incompetence and no accountability or consequence or jail time? This has to stop. And not with another committee hearing?
    These Apparatchiks feel nothing in awarding these “contracts” not even when it affects human life.
    Jail them!
    And no mention of their illustrious boss the Meenester of Health at the time?
    Dr.? Aaron Motsoaledi skips off to the Department of Home Affairs and stuffs that up too. As evidenced in the News 24 headline “It’s mindboggling’: Motsoaledi hammered again in Zimbabwe Exemption Permit court saga”. How did this cretin escape the investigation?
    The Cadres get rewarded with another portfolio not a jail cell. Let’s get rid of this filth?

  • Winston Bigsby says:

    This tragedy was in 2015? Eight years later and nobody’s behind bars??

  • ylab says:

    The disgusting part of this whole sad saga is that nobody that was part of this corruption racket has the guts or decency to admit that this was an ANC fund raising project to fight the 2016 local government elections. Politicians don’t do anything or take initiative if there isn’t a back hander. Judge Moseneke was way to soft at the enquiry.

  • Cunningham Ngcukana says:

    This is a very good thing by Section 27. However, they ignore a very serious flaw in the public service that we must face as a country. The fear of contracted public servants of the political executives who must renew their contracts which in part lead to the Life Esidimeni tragedy and is central to corruption within the state. The structure of the public service lends itself to such tragedies. The fact that Ace Magashule faces charges for failure of oversight so should the fellow called David “Life Esidimeni” Makhura be charged for murder because he was very much involved with the budget cuts that led to the tragedy. To exculpate him ewill be a very serious mistake and people must not pursue people because they do no like them and leave other thugs because they are likeable. I know Barney very well and I spoke to him and he was very remorseful and said that as politicians we need to look at the flawed structure of the public service and government we have. Otherwise one is very happy with the work of Section 27 that is very commendable from education and polishing Angie Motshekga.

  • What a tragedy…in a New South Africa…downward spiral of Health care in this beautiful country of ours…look at public hospitals in 2023…???

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