Friday 19 July

10 July 2024, Johannesburg – SECTION27 welcomes the judgment in the Life Esidimeni Inquest by Judge Mmonoa Teffo of the Gauteng High Court, Pretoria.

In the oral summary of her judgment, Judge Teffo stated that former Gauteng Health MEC, Qedani Mahlangu, and the former Director of the Mental Health Directorate in Gauteng, Dr Makgabo Manamela negligently caused the deaths of nine mental healthcare users: Virginia Machpelah, Deborah Phehla, Frans Dekker, Charity Ratsotso, Koketso Mogoerane, Terrence Chaba, Daniel Josiah, Matlakala Motsoahae, and Lucky Maseko. 

Judge Teffo noted that Ms Mahlangu negligently terminated the Life Esidimeni contract despite expert advice and warnings, resulting in mental healthcare users being moved to (non-governmental organisations) NGOs that were ill-equipped and insufficiently experienced to care for them. This conduct, Judge Teffo stated, led to deaths that could have been avoided. Judge Teffo stated Dr Manamela hastily facilitated the implementation of the project plan despite expert advice and that the community-based NGOs were neither adequately qualified nor properly licenced. 

The Life Esidimeni Inquest ran from 19 July 2021 until 8 November 2023.  The purpose of the inquest was for the Court to determine the legal cause of the deaths of the mental healthcare users and whether, on the face of it, the conduct of any individual caused these deaths. During the inquest, the Judge assessed expert evidence, witness testimony, police files and investigations – including postmortem reports, where they are available – as well as evidence from the Arbitration hearings and other documentation surrounding the circumstances of the deaths, to ascertain, for each of the mental healthcare users who passed away.  

SECTION27 represented 44 mental healthcare users who died in conditions of extreme neglect, with many of them being emaciated, dehydrated and suffering from bed sores. We argued that there were at least 10 mental healthcare users whose deaths were caused by Ms Mahlangu, Dr Manamela and/or Ethel Ncube, the owner of Precious Angels NGO. 

Following Judge Teffo’s decision, the National Prosecuting Authority will decide whether to pursue criminal prosecution. We trust that it will do so, and that Ms Mahlangu and Dr Manamela will be prosecuted for culpable homicide.

Whilst the judgment from the Inquest cannot restore lost lives and dignity, the outcome is a bold statement in favour of accountability. For the families of mental healthcare users who died after being transferred from Life Esidimeni, and indeed for the many people who have watched as the different legal processes relating to this case have unfolded over the past nine years, it has been a long wait for justice and this outcome is an end in itself and a vital step on the path towards criminal accountability. 

Notes to the Editor: We have not yet received the full judgment and will release a further statement once we have had an opportunity to study it.

For media enquiries: 

Gillian Pillay | | 082 772 0052


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