Mahlangu, Hlongwa elected to top Gauteng ANC body

Former Gauteng health MEC Qedani Mahlangu, who presided over the Life Esidimeni tragedy, has been elected into the Gauteng ANC’s provincial executive committee (PEC). She joins the PEC alongside controversial Chief Whip and former Gauteng health MEC Brian Hlongwa.

Mahlangu takes up the position following a two-day elective conference this weekend, radio station 702 reports. The ANC’s PEC is the party’s top body in a province and leads the party provincially.

Mahlangu oversaw the transfer of almost 1700 mental health patients out of state-funded private Life Esidimeni facilities largely into mainly unlicensed and ill-equipped NGOs. At least 144 patients ultimately died and almost two dozen remain missing.

She joins the PEC alongside Hlongwa, who was implicated in R1.2-billion of graft while at the helm of the Gauteng health department between 2006 and 2009. He was succeeded by Mahlangu between 2009 and 2010. She later returned to the office in 2014 before resigning the night before the release of a damning ombud investigation into the Life Esidimeni debacle.

Life Esidimeni families say they are outraged at the ANC’s decision. In a statement, family representatives said that if the Gauteng Premier had been serious about threats to haul Mahlangu in front of the ANC’s integrity committee, this would have happened before this weekend’s vote.

“Had the ANC shown serious intent to do the right thing, this process would have taken place immediately following the Life Esidimeni arbitration hearings [that concluded in March]. It would have sent a clear message that they were serious about the process itself and about dealing with corrupt officials within the Gauteng provincial government”, they say.

“We firmly believe that if someone is implicated in mismanagement and negligent or intentional decision making that leads to a tragedy on the scale of Life Esidimeni, they should not be eligible for election.”

In June, Bhekisisa broke the news that the Office of the Presidency had been in possession of an SIU report on Hlongwa and corruption for more than a year but had failed to act on it. This came to light after public interest law organisation Section27 was able to obtain the report via a Promotion of Access to Information Act request.

The National Prosecuting Authority subsequently requested the Hawks to re-open their investigation into Hlongwa, News24 reports.

The pair’s election comes as the former national head of mental health services Melvyn Freeman has broken years of silence over the Life Esidimeni tragedy.

Freeman was the national health department’s chief director of noncommunicable diseases at the time the Gauteng health department began transferring patients out of Life Esidimeni facilities. The department health ombud report revealed. Freeman has opened up about the experience in the latest edition of The Lancet Psychiatry medical journal:

“The owners of the NGOs were provided with ‘line-ups’ of mental healthcare users and were allowed to decide whom they wanted to take. This draws parallels with slave owners choosing their new ‘possessions’, he writes.

“The way people were moved… where they were moved to, how they were treated and even the handling of bodies after death, suggests that the coordinators and enforcers of the project perceived mental health users as lesser human beings.”

After the health department became aware of the Gauteng government’s plans, the national health department’s director-general Precious Matsoso also repeatedly requested that Gauteng mental health directorate and nurse Makgabo Manamela brief Freeman on the project. But Manamela never did, the ombud’s report found.

“It is especially worrying that healthcare leadership and professionally-trained health workers could permit such things to happen. A few healthcare workers refused to participate,” Freeman writes. 

“No professional is obliged to carry out an instruction if it is unlawful in their judgement or is likely to lead to the death and injury of a person.”

Read the full article here

[This story was last updated at 11:57 am on 24 July 2017]

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever. But it comes at a cost. Advertisers are cancelling campaigns, and our live events have come to an abrupt halt. Our income has been slashed.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years. We’ve survived thanks to the support of our readers, we will need you to help us get through this.

To help us ensure another 35 future years of fiercely independent journalism, please subscribe.

Laura Lopez Gonzalez
Laura Lopez Gonzalez
@Bhekisisa_MG deputy editor. Science lover & lurker.
Bhekisisa team
Bhekisisa Team
Health features and news from across Africa by Bhekisisa, the Mail & Guardian's health journalism centre.

Ayo report: CFO acted in the PIC’s interests

A disciplinary inquiry has cleared Matshepo More of all charges, but she remains suspended

A lifeline for the homeless people in eThekwini

eThekwini plans to retain permanent and safe open spaces for people with nowhere to sleep

Judge trashes entire lockdown regime as constitutionally flawed

The high court ruling will delight gatvol South Africans but is unlikely to stand the test of time

The backlogs, denials and future of testing Covid-19

The National Health Laboratory Services finally admitted to a bottleneck last week, after denying there were any issues since April. According to the service, the backlog of 80 000 tests started in the first week of May

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday