It is being called "medical Marikana" in certain circles. Between March and December 2016, 94 people died as a result of a Gauteng health department project intended to "deinstitutionalise" certain mentally ill patients, by moving them from a licensed healthcare provider (Life Esidimeni) to several unlicensed community organisations. Around 2,000 people, who were receiving specialised chronic psychiatric care, were to be moved out of the licensed institutions to families, NGOs and psychiatric hospitals providing acute care.
Central to this is the figure of Qedani Mahlangu, the Gauteng member of the executive council (MEC) for health, who signed off on this so-called "Gauteng Mental Health Marathon Project", apparently to cut costs.
After a scathing report from the health ombudsman, which recommended that Gauteng Premier David Makhura should reconsider her fitness to hold office, Mahlangu resigned. The expectation is that she will not be the only person to face the consequences for the disaster, as the report names other people in the department who were culpable, but she was the first and the most high profile. Various political parties, including the Economic Freedom Fighters, want the sanction to be more severe than the mere loss of her job.
She infamously told the Gauteng provincial legislature in in September 2016 that 36 people had died due to this disastrous policy; however the health ombud's report stated that by that time, 77 patients had already died. "Why did the MEC not know this information then?" asked the ombud's report.
Mahlangu has occupied a number of MEC positions in Gauteng, including for infrastructure development, economic development, social development and local government.
According to the CV posted on the Gauteng Department of Health's website, Mahlangu obtained "a teaching qualification and thereafter studied for an Advanced Diploma in Economics with the University of the Western Cape (UWC). She further holds a Post Graduate Diploma from the London School of Economics (LSE) and a qualification from Williams College in Massachusetts, USA. She was recently awarded an Honours Degree in Economics from UWC."
In her youth, she was a member of the South African Youth Congress, and joined the African National Congress in the early '90s.