Qedani Mahlangu, former Gauteng MEC for health, said during cross-examination on Tuesday that she is still “very sorry” about the Life Esidimeni tragedy which led to the death of 144 people under her leadership. However, Solidarity Helping Hand says “sorry” is not enough.
Mahlangu is currently in the second week of cross-examination in the inquest into the tragic events that took place seven years ago at Life Esidimeni happened It.
A total of 144 people died in Gauteng between March and December 2016 when more than 1,500 mental health patients were transferred to unlicensed institutions where they did not receive proper care. The Gauteng government has already paid out R405 million to victims.
Mahlangu is currently testifying about her role in the controversial decision that led to the relocation of these patients. She was on Tuesday in the Pretoria High Court by adv. Phyllis Vorster from AfriForum’s private prosecution unit interviewed.
Vorster was appointed in terms of a vigilance assignment to assist the families of some of the Life Esidimeni victims on behalf of Solidarity Helping Hand during the investigation.
“Retrospection is the best teacher. In retrospect, things could have been done differently during the implementation of the plan. I say again I am very, very sorry. I wish I could turn back time, but I can’t,” she said in the witness stand.
She maintained that there was nothing wrong with the decision to terminate the state’s contract with Life Esidimeni to save the Gauteng Department of Health money, but that the implementation of the plan went awry. She also said that it was not her responsibility to ensure that the relevant organizations met all the necessary requirements.
Mahlangu did admit that there was not enough communication with the patients’ families.
That communication could have been much better is evident from the investigations at the time and the health ombudsman’s report. At the time, the department informed the families via SMS that their loved ones would be transferred to other institutions.
“That is why I will continue to apologize for the things that happened when I was in charge as MEC of health,” she testified.
René Roux, spokesperson for Solidarity Helping Hand, says the institution is keeping a close eye on the course of the inquest and the decisions that result from it.
“Sorry is not enough. Imagine taking a glass plate and smashing it on the ground. It lies in pieces. You look at it and say “sorry”. It’s as easy as that. But does this make the glass plate whole again? These families are broken. Justice must be done,” said Roux.
The investigation continues.
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