In any democracy where individuals in positions of power are held accountable for their actions, the recklessness that leads to the deaths of dozens of patients would have claimed the scalps of implicated officials. Such negligence would have also seen those responsible facing the full might of the law. Sadly, not in this country.
After the deaths of 36 psychiatric patients in Gauteng earlier this year, not a single official has been called to account. The patients had been transferred to facilities run by nongovernmental organisations to save costs. It is alleged families of the victims objected to the process, but were overruled.
There are also claims that the patients were transferred without the clinical files detailing their medical history, and doctors were sent to the NGOs to examine the needs of the patients.
There are also reports that the Gauteng health department roped in daycare centres and organisations with little or no experience in dealing with the mentally ill to accommodate hundreds of patients it moved out of Life Esidimeni in Randfontein.
The department allegedly ignored the advice of several experts who warned it was risking the lives of patients by sending them to facilities that could not cope with their needs. While we support efforts aimed at cutting costs and fighting wasteful expenditure, this should never compromise citizens’ lives.
That Gauteng health MEC Qedani Mahlangu and her top managers, under whose watch these preventable deaths occurred, are all still in their jobs is a slap in the faces of the victims’ relatives. The ANC in Gauteng likes to be seen as the voice of reason within the troubled ruling party.
They were among the first structures to break ranks with party leadership, and condemned the waste of millions of rands on the upgrades to President Jacob Zuma’s private home in Nkandla.
They did the same after the Constitutional Court ruling which found Zuma had failed to uphold, defend and respect the constitution when he failed to implement Public Protector Thuli Madonsela’s remedial action contained in her Nkandla report.
Following the damning ruling, the ANC in Gauteng again broke ranks and refused to accept Zuma’s apology and called on him to “do the right thing”. Gauteng also has a history of sacking politicians facing accusations of impropriety.
In 2009, MEC for agriculture and rural development Nomantu Nkomo-Ralehoko was sacked barely 25 days after taking office over the bungled purchase of a R920 000 Mercedes-Benz.
In 2012, the province’s MEC for local government and housing, Humphrey Mmemezi, was dismissed for the abuse of state funds and damaging a government vehicle. It is claimed at the time Mmemezi used government funds to buy a painting – worth R10 000 – from a McDonald’s in Pretoria.
Mmemezi was also linked to an accident involving West Rand teenager Thomas Ferreira, who was hit by an official Gauteng government vehicle in November 2011.
It will border on hypocrisy for a party that has been highly vocal on any wrongdoing – and the one that has previously shown zero tolerance on improper conduct – to appear to protect one of their own implicated in what the ANC in Gauteng claims to be fighting against.
We applaud the intervention of Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi, who has ordered a probe into the deaths. But Gauteng Premier David Makhura must go further and see to it that Mahlangu and her officials take full responsibility.
He must remove her while the matter is being investigated and, in her place, put someone who will place the lives of citizens ahead of any austerity measures. Allowing Mahlangu to continue in her position will amount to double standards on the part of the ANC leadership in Gauteng.