23 October 2023, Johannesburg – The Life Esidimeni Inquest will resume on 26 October 2023, at the Gauteng High Court in Pretoria where SECTION27 will argue that the former Gauteng Health MEC, Qedani Mahlangu, the former Director of Mental Health Directorate, Dr Makgabo Manamela and the owner of Precious Angels NGO should be charged with culpable homicide for their involvement in the tragic deaths of 141 mental health care users in 2016.
Over two weeks from 26 October 2023, all parties will present oral argument in the inquest before Judge Mmonoa Teffo. In terms of the Inquests Act, the judge must determine the cause of the deaths of the 141 mental health care users who died after they were moved from Life Esidimeni into unlicenced and unprepared NGO’s. The judge must then decide whether, on the face of it, the conduct of any person caused or contributed to any of the deaths. The decision to prosecute is made by the National Prosecuting Authority once the Court has made its findings.
SECTION27 represents 44 mental healthcare users who died in the most inhuman, cruel and degrading circumstances while under the care of the State. Many of the people who died suffered starvation, dehydration, neglect, and severe violations of their human rights. We will present our argument (based on the evidence already before the court) that the deaths of at least 10 of the mental health care users were caused by the conduct of Ms Mahlangu, Dr Manamela and Ms Ncube. SECTION27’s full heads of argument can be found here: In summary, we will make the following arguments:
- Ms Mahlangu made the initial decision to terminate the Life Esidimeni contract. She then continued to make a series of reckless decisions in relation to the project for months while chairing project team meetings. This included putting pressure on the Gauteng Department of Health officials to implement the termination project over an extremely short period of time. Ms Mahlangu made these decisions having been warned of the risks of termination, the impracticalities of continuing with the implementation of the project and the insufficiency of measures in place to mitigate the risks and impracticalities.
- Dr Manamela was the de facto project leader and was directly involved in implementation of the termination project. She signed licenses for NGOs that she knew had not been properly assessed and then failed to ensure that they were paid timeously. She was warned both before and during the implementation of the project about risks and failed to mitigate these risks sufficiently.
- Ethel Ncube was the owner of Precious Angels, which saw the deaths of 20 mental health care users, the first of whom died less than two weeks after being moved into her care. As the owner of the NGO Precious Angels, Ms Ncube housed mental health care users in the most deplorable conditions. She knowingly operated an unlicenced NGO, continued to accept patients even after it was clear that she had neither the staff, the resources, nor the facilities to care for them and that taking additional people would compromise their health. She employed unskilled workers to take care of patients who required specialised care and allowed them to be housed in conditions that were squalid and inhumane.
The conduct of Ms Mahlangu, Dr Manamela and Ms Ncube each caused the deaths of the mental health care users in the Life Esidimeni tragedy.
In addition to SECTION27’s argument, heads of argument have been submitted by counsel for Ms Mahlangu, Dr Manamela, Ms Ncube (and four other NGO owners represented by Legal Aid SA); as well as the Evidence Leaders, and counsel for Dr Selebano, Dr Lebethe, Ms Sennelo, Ms Gordon, Mr Mosenogi, Ms Nyatlo, Ms Jacobus, Dr Lenkwane, Life Esidimeni, Ms Ndlovu, Mosego, Takalani and Ubuhle Benkosi Homes, the former Premier and former MEC for Finance in Gauteng, and four families represented by Afriforum.
Ms Mahlangu, Dr Manamela and Ms Ncube argue against SECTION27’s submission that the judge should recommend their prosecution.
- Ms Mahlangu argues in summary that she did not make the decision to terminate the contract with Life Esidimeni and was not involved in the implementation and execution of the termination project. She argues that it is only officials who were involved in implementation that may have a case to answer. She is of the view that their conduct also falls short of the requirements for liability. Where Ms Mahlangu was informed about implementation, she argues that she was misled. As a result, she argues, the judge should not make a recommendation that she be prosecuted.
- Dr Manamela argues in summary that she did not take the decision to terminate the contract with Life Esidimeni and had previously drafted a plan to reduce beds at Life Esidimeni in phases. She oversaw the implementation team and tried to assist when problems arose. As a result, she argues, the judge should not make a recommendation that she be prosecuted.
- Ms Ncube argues in summary that she was not personally responsible for the physical care of mental health care users; and the circumstances at Precious Angels that led to deaths were brought about by officials in the Department. As a result, she argues, the judge should not make a recommendation that she be prosecuted.
Other than the families represented by SECTION27, the only represented parties who have made allegations against other parties are the families represented by Afriforum and Ms Jacobus. The families represented by Afriforum argue that the judge should recommend the prosecution of Ms Mahlangu, Dr Manamela and Dr Selebano for murder and Ms Jacobus and Ms Noyile for culpable homicide. Ms Jacobus argues that the judge should recommend the prosecution of Ms Mahlangu, Dr Selebano, Dr Manamela, Dr Lebethe and Mr Mosenogi for culpable homicide, alternatively murder.
The Life Esidimeni disaster and the legal processes associated with it, including the Arbitration and the Inquest, are unique and unprecedented in South Africa. We hope that the Inquest will serve its purpose to promote public confidence in the criminal justice system and reassure the public that unnatural deaths will receive proper attention and investigation and that appropriate measures will be taken to prevent similar occurrences in future. In a country starved of accountability, the Life Esidimeni Inquest has the potential to further accountability and justice following a disaster of previously unimaginable proportions.
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