Day three of the Life Esidimeni alternative dispute resolution was fraught with frustrations and characterised by dodging, vague answers and unsatisfactory witness testimony.
The hearing is intended to offer closure for the families of at least 118 mentally ill patients who died as a result of a Health Department decision to transfer over 1 700 patients from Esidimeni facilities into inadequately resourced NGO’s.
Lawyers for the families and the head of the hearings on Wednesday pressed Gauteng Health Chief Planning Director, Levy Mosenogi for answers about who took the decision to transfer mentally ill patients into NGOs – an action that resulted in multiple deaths.
Mosenogi, who was a project manager responsible for patients’ removal, had a hard time giving direct answers and at times conceded to not being aware of certain developments at various stages of the planned moves. He also admitted to not reading letters from organisations opposed to the transfers.
Legal Aid counsel Lilla Crouse asked Mosenogi if he had read a judgment in March 2016 in which a high court judge had cautioned the department against placing adults with children, and the potential overcrowding it would cause.
Mosenogi said he did not remember whether he read the judgment Crouse was referring to, only saying he had “read a lot of papers during that time”. Why did you do this? Why did you move people to NGOs with no proper service level agreements? With no resources?
Why did you do this? Why did you move people to NGOs with no proper service level agreements? With no resources?
“As a responsible project manager, you would have read the judgment. To make sure what the judge says. Don’t you agree with me now thinking back to who you are?”
After a long silence, Mosenogi responded that he had. Under further cross-examination, he admitted to only becoming aware of the first death four months after it occurred.
Former Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke, who is heading the proceedings, was at pains to get clarity on why Mosenogi forged ahead with a decision that resulted in 118 deaths.
“Why did you do this? Why did you move people to NGOs with no proper service level agreements? With no resources?”
Earlier Mosenogi admitted that officials were aware that the NGOs where the department moved patients to did not have the 2000 beds required to admit all the patients.
“I should have been much more stronger in my contestation of this thing. Maybe I should have pulled out. It did cross my mind that maybe I should pull out, but when I saw the conditions the patients were in, I thought maybe I would make a difference,” Mosenogi admitted.
Mosenogi also told the hearings he had raised concerns about moving patients to the ill-equipped NGOs in prayer meetings he attended, as well as informally with his comrades at branches when the former MEC Qedani Mahlangu did not act on them. Mahlangu was painted as ‘difficult to reach’.
Chief Justice Moseneke asked him why he didn’t then raise the issues with someone more senior than the MEC instead of going ahead with a dangerous plan.
“I should have done that,” Mosenogi responded.
“I think I should have raised it formally. And also I should have raised it with the Premier. I did not do that.”
Mosenogi, who ended his testimony by apologising to weeping family members, told the arbitration that he regretted the way in which events had transpired.
Mosenogi, explaining that he was not scared of Mahlangu, said: “Maybe the Department of Health should be run by people who know about health. It would have been far better.”
An edited version of this story appeared in The Star.