Prof Malegapuru Makgoba. Picture: SIBUSISO MSIBI/SOWETAN
Prof Malegapuru Makgoba. Picture: SIBUSISO MSIBI/SOWETAN

Gauteng health department head Dr Tiego Ephraim Selebano is still in its employ despite his "fingerprints being peppered throughout" the transfer of more than 1,000 psychiatric patients to unlicensed nongovernment organisations (NGOs).

Gauteng government spokesman Thabo Masebe confirmed late on Thursday that Selebano remained an employee of the province, but said the director-general in premier David Makhura’s office, Phindile Baleni, "had initiated a process in terms of labour law" to ensure health ombudsman Prof Malegapuru Makgoba’s recommendations were implemented.

"I cannot give further details," said Masebe.

Makgoba’s report, released on Wednesday, names Selebano as one of the chief orchestrators of the deinstitutionalisation of the more than 1,000 psychiatric patients to unfit facilities.

In the report, Makgoba condemned the move as not only ill-advised but also "chaotic and rushed or hurried".

Former health MEC Qedani Mahlangu tendered her resignation on the eve of the report’s release and will be replaced by former deputy minister of health Gwen Ramokgopa.

Masebe said the Gauteng government and the national Department of Health, along with affected families, had set up a committee to help co-ordinate efforts to move the remaining patients to more suitable facilities in a bid to meet the 45-day deadline set by the Office of the Health Ombudsman.

"The immediate priority is to find suitable government facilities for the remaining patients," said Masebe.

"We are not talking to Life Esidimeni about admitting some of the patients; first prize would be to place them in government facilities," he said.

However, inquests into the deaths of the 94 patients would be carried out at a later stage.

"Inquests would provide closure for the families, but we do not want to jump a step."

Makhura and Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi would lead consultations with the families on a number of issues, including the pending inquests.

On Thursday, the South African Council of Churches added its voice to the saga, saying Mahlangu’s resignation came a "little too late".

"The fabric of a society is determined by how it cares for its elderly and vulnerable members. We must ensure that we do not continue to let our citizens down, particularly in the name of budget minimisation," a council statement said.

The council joined the EFF and the DA, which have called for Makhura to resign.

The DA held a night-time vigil at the premier’s office while the EFF filed criminal complaints against Mahlangu and the entire Gauteng cabinet.

The EFF also wants the NGOs implicated in the deaths to be held accountable.

Makhura said at the release of the report in Pretoria he would not resign because the health ombudsman had not recommended he step down.

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