never again

Sasha Stevenson, SECTION27 Health Rights Programme Head (27 November 2022)

Sasha Stevenson, SECTION27 Health Rights Programme Head (27 November 2022)

Life Esidimeni Inquest 

The Life Esidimeni Inquest hearing has now sat for 110 days of evidence, 76 days of which were this year. We’ve had another 21 days of case management meetings, postponement applications or similar. We have heard from 36 witnesses, all of whom SECTION27 has cross-examined. The record is sitting at 50485 pages.

This has been the year that we have heard from high level government officials including former Gauteng Health HoD Dr Selebano; former Director for Mental Health, Dr Manamela; and former Deputy Director in charge of NGOs, Hanna Jacobus. We have also heard from NGO owners including the owner of Precious Angels where 20 people died, many of whom were drastically underweight at the time of their death and succumbed to pneumonia.

Expert witness called by SECTION27, Dr Mvuyiso Talatala, gave evidence highlighting the care needs of the mental health care users in question and the foreseeability of adverse health outcomes, including death, when they were not given the required care and medication. Importantly, Dr Talatala’s evidence tied the decision to cancel the contract and to move people without an adequate plan for their care, to their deaths, sometimes only days, sometimes months later.

The court term ended with SECTION27’s cross examination of Dr Makgabo Manamela who led the Mental Health Directorate and was the key designer and implementer of the project to move mental health care users from Life Esidimeni to NGOs. Dr Manamela’s testimony under cross examination showed up the inadequacy of the plan and its implementation. We were not able to finish our cross examination of Dr Manamela and will continue with the cross examination on 30 January 2023 when the hearing starts again.

The last witness scheduled to give evidence before the Life Esidimeni Inquest is former MEC for Health, Qedani Mahlangu. She will start giving evidence on 10 April 2023.

We are proud of the work that SECTION27, acting as attorneys on behalf of its bereaved family clients and SADAG, has done this year to shine a light on those responsible for the Life Esidimeni disaster, that cost at least 144 lives. Our legal team of Mbali Baduza, Sasha Stevenson, Adv Adila Hassim SC, Adv Thabang Pooe and Adv Nasreen Rajab-Budlender SC has worked tirelessly to ensure that Judge Mmonoa Teffo has everything she needs to make a decision on whether, on the face of it, the action or omission of any person caused or contributed to the death of any of the 141 deceased whose deaths are being investigated by the inquest court. We have consistently forefronted the experience of the mental health care users whose lives, health and dignity were treated with such lack of care by those responsible for keeping them safe.

We look forward to the finalisation of the inquest in 2023 and trust that the bereaved families, and all those who value accountability and the fulfilment of constitutional obligations, will see justice for the deaths of the 141 mental health care users.

- Sasha Stevenson, SECTION27 Health Rights Programme Head

March 2023 - The judicial inquest held at the Gauteng High court in Pretoria is taking its toll on the families who have been waiting for justice to be served, more than seven years after the tragedy. Proceedings take place virtually. Some families feel left behind, unable to follow it due to data or even connection problems. Next month it’s former MEC Qedani Mahlangu’s turn to give her evidence at the inquest. Many families say they’re not sure they are mentally prepared for it.

October 2023 - Section27 prepares closing remarks for Life Inquest Inquiry to press for culpable homicide charges against key Life Esidimeni figures namely Qedani Mahlangu, Dr Selebano, Dr Manamela and NGO owner, Ethel Ncube. Read opening statement by Advocate Adila Hassim SC here and the final argument here.

November 2023 - After 2 years, the Life Esidimeni Inquest Inquiry in the Pretoria High Court has concluded at the end of October 2023. The inquest began on 19 July, 2021, with the crucial purpose of determining any criminal accountability for the deaths of the 144+ patients who were transferred from Life Esidimeni facilities to unlicensed NGOs during the 2015-2016 Gauteng Mental Health Marathon Project. It is now left for the court to make its findings and recommendations. A date has not been specified for when the findings and recommendations of the inquest will be revealed. Click here for more

+Section27 Inquest Factsheet
Click here

Life Esidimeni Press Articles
Click here

Life Esidimeni Live Stream
Click here