The suspended head of the Gauteng department of health, Barney Selebano, has turned to the court to avoid testifying at the Life Esidimeni arbitration hearings, The Times reported on Thursday. Selebano reportedly wants the court to stop a subpoena to testify at the hearings being served on him.
Selebano reportedly says a subpoena will force him to answer questions, and that there is "no immunity granted from criminal prosecution for witnesses". In his court papers, The Times reported that Selebano claims he only played a limited role in the transfer of mentally ill patients from Life Esidimeni facilities to unlicensed nongovernmental organisations (NGOs) where at least 141 patients later died.
He said he might incriminate himself if he testifies at the hearings and that because he is the subject of a criminal investigation into the deaths, the Constitution allows him the right to a fair trial and not to be compelled to give "self-incriminating evidence".
Selebano was fingered as one of three officials whose "fingerprints were peppered throughout the process", according to health ombudsman Malegapuru Makgoba's report into the deaths, The Times reported.
He reportedly said he would "take the sword" during interviews with the ombudsman, but has now changed his mind.
The hearings are ongoing, revealing harrowing details of how the patients died while in the care of the NGOs.
News24 reported that the mother of one of the patients testified this week, that her daughter starved to death at one of the facilities. Maria Phehla reportedly said, "I was so shocked, I nearly died with I saw my daughter lying there [in the mortuary], her face was full of blood."
She said a postmortem revealed that her daughter had plastic and brown paper in her stomach, which led Phehla to suspect she was starving when she died.
Last week, one of the implicated officials, the suspended director of the department of health, Dr Makgabo Manamela, lost an appeal of the health ombudsman's report. Makgoba found that Manamela was one of the officials who pushed for the transfer of patients to occur.
The hearings are continuing.