Gauteng ANC provincial executive committee (PEC) is the party’s highest decision-making body in the province in between provincial conferences. The body is chaired by the MEC of human settlements and cooperative governance Paul Mashatile. He is deputised by none other than the premier of the province himself, David Makhura.
After Prof Malegapuru Makgoba, the health ombudsman, last year released his damning report into the harrowing tale of how mentally ill patients were transferred from Life Esidimeni hospitals to ill-equipped healthcare facilities run by unlawful NGOs, where many were starved, deprived of care and even passed away, Makhura said he was not aware of the tragedy.
The premier’s private office is resourced with senior officials who include a chief of staff and spokesperson. Besides a director-general, his office also has five deputy director-generals (DDGs), with one of them responsible for provincial communications services. That their political principal was unaware of the fatalistic ‘marathon project’ that has led to the deaths of more than 130 mentally ill patients is a red herring.
DDG for communications services Thabo Masebe himself oversees a well-oiled proactive communications machinery. A seasoned communicator himself, Masebe was previously a DDG responsible for communications in former deputy president Kgalema Motlanthe’s office. It is chronically counterintuitive to believe Makhura was never briefed about a certain court case in March 2016, extensively covered in the media.
If the assertion that the political boss of the provincial administration was in the dark about the sadistic nature of the transfer of patients after the health department reached a settlement with Life Esidimeni to terminate the contract is true, then the public ought to be worried. Either he was willfully misled by his own technocrats, or he undermined the scale of the calamity unfolding at the time.
On March 17, 2016, the South African Federation for Mental Health (SAFMH) warned the Gauteng health department the decision could spell disaster.
With human rights day approaching, SAFMH called on the department “to protect the human rights of the mentally ill patients at Life Esidimeni”. A few days earlier, the South Gauteng High Court in Johannesburg dismissed an urgent application trying to prevent the Gauteng health department from discharging 54 patients from a Life Esidimeni hospital. This is after the termination of the Life Esidimeni contract with the group in December 2015.
“The manner in which the termination of the Life Esidimeni contract has been managed by the Gauteng department of health has raised concerns regarding whether the human rights of the residents of the Life Esidimeni facilities are being protected.
“There are also concerns that the services and support that these residents need right now will not be provided, and that this issue is not receiving the necessary attention and resources to ensure a seamless transition for the residents,” stated SAFMH programme manager Marthé Viljoen in a statement.
Fast-forward to February 1, 2017, when Makgoba released his report that not only exonerated SAFMH’s perceptions of the reckless handling of the ‘project’, but also reported 118 patients had lost their lives. He warned the number could rise. It did, and we are currently sitting at about 140. Makgoba also told the public when MEC Qedani Mahlangu publicly announced only 36 deaths in September 2016, 77 patients had already in fact died.
Makhura announced Mahlangu’s resignation on the evening before the report was publicly released. The health ombudsman also recommended the establishment of an alternative dispute resolution process.
Astonishingly, Mahlangu was not included in the initial list of witnesses forwarded to retired deputy justice Dikgang Moseneke. Therein lies the first indication that Mahlangu’s PEC colleagues never saw it prudent to hold her accountable.
The ambivalent attitude appeared to have continued with Mahlangu requesting and being granted a ‘leave of absence’ from her PEC duties.
The argument that the former MEC had a right to do what she wished with her life is ill-considered. Just because it is legal doesn’t automatically qualify it as morally and ethically sound. Apartheid was the same – it had laws and a judicial systems, but remains morally repugnant at all levels.
Enter Brian Hlongwa, himself implicated in the current financial meltdown engulfing the department, in a conversation with a Gauteng station. He candidly revealed that he had advised Mahlangu to go into ‘exile’ for a period of two years. This is consistent with the decision to allow Mahlangu to be outside the country. The statement that she will only be available in January 2018 is a middle finger to the families of the victims and the country in general.
It is a tall order to not conclude that the ANC in Gauteng is complicit in Mahlangu’s shenanigans. They are likely to have been part of the strategy that resulted in the confusion surrounding where exactly she was studying. Their moral duty was to ensure she remained in the country until the Life Esidimeni hearings were concluded.
Is she unwilling to testify at the hearings before the elective conference to avert bad PR for ANC Gauteng?
Gosebo Mathope is a Senior Online Political Reporter for The Citizen
You can follow the author @Gosebo_Mathope or email firstname.lastname@example.org