Qedani Mahlangu. Picture: SOWETAN
Qedani Mahlangu. Picture: SOWETAN

The ANC provincial executive committee (PEC) has said that it knows former Gauteng Health MEC Qedani Mahlangu is overseas‚ and that it gave her permission to leave to start studying in the UK in August.

There have been growing calls from families who lost loved ones for her to appear at the arbitration hearings after 118 patients died after being moved from Life Esidimeni’s care.

Mahlangu spearheaded the project to move 1‚712 patients out of Life Esidimeni psychiatric homes into non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and hospitals. She told families there was no money for mental health patients. Testimony has detailed how she ignored warnings from relatives‚ civil society‚ Life Healthcare staff and psychiatrists not to follow through with the plans to shut down psychiatric homes.

At the hearings over the past three weeks‚ families have testified how patients were taken on trucks to NGOs "like sheep to slaughter"‚ and some appeared to have been starved to death.

Testimony has detailed how she ignored warnings from relatives‚ civil society‚ Life Healthcare staff and psychiatrists not to follow through with the plans to shut down psychiatric homes

Meanwhile‚ Mahlangu is reportedly studying at the London School of Economics (LSE). The Gauteng ANC PEC is unapologetic about Mahlangu’s absence.

"Comrade Qedani is still an elected member of the PEC. The referral of her matter to the provincial integrity committee is something that is being processed internally‚" the PEC said in a statement. "At the end of August 2017‚ Comrade Qedani Mahlangu requested a leave of absence from Gauteng PEC responsibilities to be able to travel overseas for purposes of pursuing her post-graduate studies. Therefore any suggestion that the organisation does not know her whereabouts is incorrect."

UK activists with connections to the Treatment Action Campaign protested at the LSE on Tuesday afternoon. Diarmaid McDonald told TimesLIVE he handed over a memorandum to LSE management‚ and asked them to take their message that she should appear at the hearings to Mahlangu.

He said: "We just heard yesterday that Qedani Mahlangu is in London‚ and we are outraged she is hiding in London. She should be taking responsibility." He also said that "activists will be keeping up the pressure until she gets on the plane to SA".

Mahlangu told evidence leader Patrick Ngutshana that she would willingly come to testify‚ but that she couldn’t do so as she had exams. It is unclear how she has exams if her course started two months ago‚ as the ANC says she only left the country at the end of August. The Treatment Action Campaign could find no evidence of LSE students sitting for exams so close to the beginning of the UK academic year.

While Mahlangu has been absent‚ families have detailed the consequences of her decision. A sobbing former Life Healthcare manager‚ Dr Morgan Mkhatshwa‚ testified how NGO owners came to Esidimeni homes to "pick" patients like it was an auction until he threw them out. He alleged that Mahlangu had said that unstable mentally ill patients who were not in proper care and became aggressive "could be put in chains".

In the past week, families have given testimonies of bodies that had decomposed‚ were crawling with maggots‚ or had missing eyes. Vuyo Aaron Ngqondwana’s post-mortem showed that he had eaten orange plastic. Another patient‚ Billy Maboe‚ was denied water because he was wetting himself; he suffered kidney damage and died in a hospital.

Families have wept as they told stories of hunting for loved ones‚ and hearing about their deaths days or months later.

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