Gauteng MEC Panyaza Lesufi. Picture: SOWETAN
Gauteng MEC Panyaza Lesufi. Picture: SOWETAN

Gauteng ANC deputy chair Panyaza Lesufi has acknowledged the backlash over former health MEC Qedani Mahlangu being re-elected into the party’s provincial executive committee (PEC).

Controversy continues to swirl around the re-election of Mahlangu — who resigned as health MEC after the Life Esidimeni scandal — and Brian Hlongwa‚ who has been implicated in a Special Investigation Unit probe of fraud and corruption to the value of R1.2bn while he was Gauteng health MEC.

In an interview on Monday night, Talk Radio 702’s Karima Brown asked Lesufi: "How seriously‚ Mr Lesufi‚ can we take this ANC PEC on corruption when these two members have been re-elected?"

Lesufi said it was not as if the party had not acted against Mahlangu. "Is comrade Qedani still an MEC? No. Is comrade Qedani still a member of the provincial working committee of the ANC? No. Did the ANC-led government act on the recommendation of the [health] ombudsman? Yes. Did they institute a hearing so that family members can have closure? They did‚" he said.

Mahlangu quit after a damning report by the ombud revealed that 144 mentally ill patients had died after being removed from Life Esidimeni care facilities to ill-equipped nongovernmental organisations.

Lesufi said the party was dealing with Mahlangu internally.

"The only unfortunate part is the ANC took the matter to its ethics committee to deal with and unfortunately [this was] delayed‚" he said.

"The perceptions of people matter … people understand process but they also want to see that ANC leaders who do wrong‚ do not stay in the same powerful jobs‚ do not get the same salaries‚ do not get re-elected‚" Brown said.

"Surely there must be something wrong with a conference that elects a former MEC under whose watch hundreds of the most vulnerable of South Africans died …. It is as bad‚ if not worse‚ than the Marikana massacre‚" she added.

Lesufi said the party had accepted that the Esidimeni tragedy was a blight on their administration.

"We accept that this is something which is unfortunate‚ something we need to assure South Africans will not reoccur‚" he said.

"It’s quite clear that South Africans want us to act on this matter‚" he said.

Evading accountability

Meanwhile, the Life Esidimeni Family Committee has said that the memories of those who died in the Life Esidimeni tragedy had been “dishonoured and trivialised” by Mahlangu’s re-election.

In a strongly worded statement on behalf of families affected by the tragedy‚ the group said it was outraged, and that by allowing Mahlangu to participate in the PEC‚ the ANC was effectively condoning the heinous acts perpetrated under her watch‚ it said.

“If ANC represents the people and is for the people‚ then how are these elections reflective of the will of the people?

“Qedani Mahlangu is found to have been responsible for the Life Esidimeni tragedy‚ in which over 140 of the most vulnerable members of our society died. It is unacceptable that in light of the overwhelming evidence concerning Mahlangu’s integrity and fitness to hold office that she has been re-elected‚” spokesperson Christine Nxumalo said in a statement.

The group said Mahlangu was being helped to “evade accountability” for the tragedy, and lamented the fact that although her case had been submitted to the ANC’s integrity committee‚ it had not heard it before she was re-elected to the PEC.

“We‚ as affected families‚ still await updates from the police on their criminal investigations‚ including in relation to Mahlangu’s role. The National Prosecuting Authority says it’s yet to finalise the Life Esidimeni cases.

“Forty-five inquest dockets are apparently awaiting a decision on whether to prosecute. The Family Committee demands to know why the police are dragging their feet on such an important matter. We need answers and we want everyone responsible to be held accountable‚” Nxumalo said.