Gauteng Premier David Makhura is not exempt from feeling the wrath of the families whose loved ones died after being moved from the Life Esidimeni facility, DA MPL Jack Bloom said on Thursday.
Makhura protected former Gauteng health MEC Qedani Mahlangu because she was an ANC "heavyweight", Bloom claimed.
He was speaking during a candlelit vigil he and DA Gauteng leader John Moodey held outside Makhura's Johannesburg office with a handful of members of the public on Thursday evening.
Makhura failed to act timeously following initial reports about 36 former Life Esidimeni patients having died.
"From the start I thought she should have resigned in shame and horror because frankly, this was so terrible.
"I kept a Mahlangu monitor, I counted the days till she was fired or resigned, and yesterday (Wednesday) marked 141 days. That's a shocking amount of time for the MEC to have still been in office, and ultimately the premier protected her," Bloom said.
Should have acted sooner
Had Makhura acted sooner, the number may not have been as high as it was, Bloom said.
"If he had acted last year, lives could have been saved, so he is culpable and I think he needs to reflect on his own role in this tragedy."
On Wednesday, Health Ombudsman Professor Malegapuru Makgoba said his investigation had found that as many as 94 patients had died. The number could be higher.
He found the decision to move about 2000 mentally-ill patients from Life Esidimeni to 27 unlicensed NGOs was rushed, chaotic, and unwise. The department decided on the move to cut costs. It funded the Esidimeni facility.
Makgoba implicated Mahlangu and two senior officials directly and called on Makhura to consider Mahlangu's suitability as an MEC, and to institute disciplinary action.
He found that at the time Mahlangu had told reporters and the Gauteng legislature that 36 patients had died, the correct number was actually 77.
Makgoba said only one of the deaths was due to problems related to mental illness. The rest died of dehydration, diarrhoea, and other "natural causes" which needed further investigation.
'He is just as accountable'
Shortly after the report's findings were made public, Makhura told reporters that Mahlangu had tendered her resignation. He vowed to take action against all other implicated officials.
The DA said Makhura should also take responsibility for the deaths. He had a so-called "war room" to alert him to such problems, but still failed to act.
"All you had to do was open the newspaper or listen to the relatives or victims who had a demonstration here, loud and clear. He shut his eyes, he shut his ears, and unfortunately more people died," Bloom said.
In other countries the premier would have resigned, Bloom said.
Moodey said Makhura's actions were not indicative of the "caring government" he claimed to lead. The buck ultimately stopped with him and he needed to resign.
"That is what a noble individual will do if he's a leader, not just let her fall on her sword, because he is just as accountable as she is. He is the captain of the ship," Moodey said.