In hindsight, the move of more than 1700 psychiatric patients from Life Esidimeni facilities to community non-governmental organisations was made “too quickly”.
The organisations meant to care for and house them were also not fit to do so.
These were the concessions drawn out of suspended Gauteng health department head, Dr Barney Selebano, after a gruelling morning of questioning at the Life Esidimeni arbitration hearings.
Selebano appeared hot under the collar as Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke backed him into answering why the patients were moved to inadequate organisations with such haste.
A move that was followed by the death of 143 patients – 59 are said to be missing.
Selebano is a key witness in the hearings because he signed off on the plan that would implement the move of patients.
However this morning he passed the blame to the department’s head of mental health directorate, Dr Makgabo Manamela, who has already testified, saying it was her responsibility to make sure the non-governmental organisations were up to standard.
“We’re still hoping someone will come here and tell us what happened ... It’s a very important part of healing. You’re vital to this, you signed off on the plan. As you sit there, do you think the non-governmental organisations were fit for the purpose of housing mentally ill patients?” Moseneke asked.
To which Selebano answered: “No, I wouldn’t say they were.”
He also conceded that the move was not to the benefit of the patients.
“At the time I didn’t know our preparations weren’t up to scratch. I honestly didn’t know that,” he said.
Selebano’s testimony has been among the most anticipated, and this morning he kept reiterating how the department was “under pressure” to cut costs and that the contract with Life Esidimeni was among the contracts identified that could help them do that.
But even when patients were moved, the department failed to pay some organisations for up to four months and thus, patients were left with no resources and in most instances, no food or medicine for their conditions.