The family of Virginia Machapela, one of the mentally ill patients who died last year after being moved by the Gauteng health department from the Life Esidimeni healthcare centre to an NGO facilities where they later died, vowed on Wednesday to initiate legal proceedings against the provincial authorities.
“How do you move somebody from a facility and you don’t tell their family? My sister was that type of a person who didn’t like a new environment. If a family member was there, then she would have felt safer in the new environment. For them to move her, and not tell us to come and be with her,” an emotional Christinah Nxumalo spoke to reporters after Health Ombudsman Prof Malegapuru Makgoba released a damning report implicating Gauteng health MEC Qedani Mahlangu and other officials in the death of the patients.
“We didn’t even know where she had been moved to. I phoned around for two weeks trying to locate her. Eventually I got a call that she had passed away. When I went to collect her body, I found out that she had died in a house, not at the Precious Angels facility where she was supposed to be. If you had to read between the lines, you can see how many things went wrong there.”
Nxumalo said she was told Machapela had died of natural causes.
“When I asked for the postmortem, there was nothing. To get my sister’s body, I had to go open a case with the police. I had to go with the police to the mortuary to get my sister. I am still waiting for the postmortem until today,” said Nxumalo.
She shared fond memories of her late sister, describing her as someone who was “as strict as hell”.
Nxumalo had no kind words for Mahlangu, who tendered her resignation to Gauteng Premier David Makhura on Tuesday night, a day before the report was made public.
“It was a cowardly act [the resignation], after all the crap that she did, the attitude that she gave us and the arrogance that she fed us. It was cowardly of her. She would stand there and not even think twice about what she would say to us. She lied that she visited these patients. She had the balls to stand in front of the media and do what she did. For her to conveniently resign the day before, after delaying this process, she wasn’t thinking of the families,” said Nxumalo.
“She was only thinking of covering herself. She has been lying all this time. I was here to stand in front of her. I swear, that woman needs God in her life. I don’t know how she sleeps every day.”
Makhura announced on Wednesday that Mahlangu had resigned.
“Today is indeed a sad day that so many of our citizens have died under circumstances that could have been avoided. I would like to announce that last night I received a letter of resignation from Ms Qedani Mahlangu as the MEC for Health, and as a member of the Gauteng provincial legislature. I would have taken action because, in any case, this is a very serious matter,” Makhura told reporters at a media briefing in Pretoria.
“She fully understood that if something goes profoundly wrong in the area where you have executive authority, you have to take direct accountability and not pass the buck to junior officials. Accordingly, I intend to appoint the former deputy minister of health who is also former MEC for health in Gauteng, Dr Gwen Ramokgopa, as the new MEC for health pending the amendment of the ANC list in the Gauteng legislature and her swearing in, which should take place in the next few days.”
It emerged on Wednesday that at least 94 mentally ill patients died between March to December 2016 in Gauteng. Among other recommendations Makgoba had earlier challenged Makhura to review Mahlangu’s suitability for her high level job.
– African News Agency