Hopes that former head of mental health directorate Makgabo Manamela will testify at Life Esidimeni inquest

Pretoria – The former head of the mental health directorate at the Gauteng Department of Health during the Life Esidimeni saga in 2016, Dr Makgabo Manamela, could not give evidence yesterday before the inquest hearing into the deaths of mental health patients.

It is hoped she will be able to take the stand today in the Gauteng High Court, Pretoria’s virtual hearing.

Manamela applied on Monday to have her evidence postponed to later this month, as she was not yet ready to testify. Judge Mmonoa Teffo, however, refused the postponement and ordered that she be ready yesterday.

Judge Teffo, in refusing the postponement on Monday, said: “It is in the interest of everyone here that this inquest should be brought to finality … We have to finalise this inquest.”

The judge wasn’t happy about the further delay. But in light of Manamela not feeling well enough to have taken the stand yesterday, the judge commented that there was nothing she could do but to postpone proceedings

Manamela’s lawyer, advocate Ndivhoniswani Makhani, said at the start of yesterday’s proceedings that they had “burnt the midnight oil” in preparation for her to testify yesterday but at about midnight Manamela told him she had a severe headache and was unable to proceed with her preparations.

Manamela is one of the last three witnesses – all the most senior government officials implicated in the Esidimeni tragedy – to take the stand.

The other two expected to testify later are Dr Barney Selebano, who was the head of the Gauteng health department at the time of the transfer of the patients, and the then health MEC Qedani Mahlangu.

The inquest followed the death of at least 144 mental health patients in 2016. Many died of starvation, neglect and dehydration.

The court must decide whether these deaths were brought about by any criminal offence or neglect on the part of the department’s officials or NGO owners who received patients.

Section27, which represents 44 of the bereaved families, said it hoped the evidence presented would be taken forward by the National Prosecuting Authority for possible criminal proceedings against those implicated. Justice Dikgang Moseneke in 2017 found the patients were transferred to NGOs who had been issued “unlawful and knowingly fraudulent” licences 

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