A woman is comforted after breaking down during the Life Esidimeni proceedings. Picture: ALON SKUY/THE TIMES
A woman is comforted after breaking down during the Life Esidimeni proceedings. Picture: ALON SKUY/THE TIMES

The DA has given the Gauteng provincial government 60 days to pursue legal action against officials implicated in the Life Esidimeni tragedy.

The party is adamant that this will compel those "responsible" for the deaths of psychiatric patients to personally pay a share of the R159m compensation awarded in total to relatives of the victims.

"The DA believes that taxpayers should not have to pay for the egregious misconduct of government officials and that the perpetrators should pay from their own pockets to cover the damage they caused‚" said Jack Bloom‚ Gauteng shadow MEC for health.

At least 144 psychiatric patients died after 1‚711 of them were moved from Life Esidimeni homes into ill-equipped and under-funded NGOs in Gauteng in 2016.

The DA said legal proceedings could be pursued through the Apportionment of Damages Act 34 of 1956‚ which states that where more than one person may be held liable for a wrongful act‚ wrongdoers are considered jointly liable to any claimants for the resultant harm.

According to the DA‚ "wrongdoers" in the tragedy include former provincial health MEC Qedani Mahlangu; former head of the Gauteng health department, Barney Selebano; and the former director of mental health Makgabo Manamela.

The office of the premier paid a total of R159.5m to the 134 claimants‚ as per retired deputy chief justice Dikgang Moseneke’s recommendations after the Life Esidimeni arbitration hearings earlier this year.

"The money has come from the budgets of provincial government departments‚ which adversely affects the poor. We insist that Mahlangu and the senior officials pay directly for their willful criminality‚" said Bloom.

In a letter addressed to Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi‚ the DA argued that the government has an obligation to seek contributions towards the compensation. "Mahlangu, for instance, earned R1.9m a year and left with a substantial pension‚ while Selebano and Manamela also earned well. They can pay their fair share of the R159m compensation amount‚" said Bloom.

Should the provincial government fail to act‚ the DA said it would raise the matter "aggressively" in the provincial legislature.

Bloom accused the ANC of protecting the implicated officials. "Qedani [Mahlangu] is a comrade. They have protected her. They didn’t fire her when these deaths were first announced. She’s still a member of the ANC provincial executive committee. If the ANC doesn’t do this‚ they are still protecting her and the two senior officials.

"We hope that the provincial government acts to recover this money so the taxpayer doesn’t suffer‚ so that service delivery doesn’t suffer‚" said Bloom. "The provincial government can act now to ensure accountability."