25/01/2018 15:17 SAST | Updated 25/01/2018 20:49 SAST

Mahlangu On Life Esidimeni Patients: 'I Cannot Carry Personal Blame'

"There's no politician in South Africa who can understand exactly what happens in their department."

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Former Gauteng health MEC Qedani Mahlangu says she cannot carry personal blame for the death of 143 mentally ill Life Esidimeni patients.

"I cannot carry personal blame, I was not working for my personal self," Mahlangu said on Thursday, testifying for a third day at the Life Esidimeni arbitration hearings in Parktown, Johannesburg. "I carry the political blame simply because of the position I held at the time."

Legal Aid advocate Lilla Crouse was not impressed with Mahlangu's answers. During her grilling of the former MEC, Crouse asked if the closure of Life Esidimeni was ever discussed in the provincial health council meetings that she chaired.

"No, it wasn't," she replied.

'I'm not a lawyer'

She also said the decision to terminate the contract was a cost-containment measure, and not "an executive decision".

"Ever since I have been in the executive council, contractual matters have never been presented to the council," she said

Crouse pressed her on whether the Life Esidimeni decision had legal consequences.

Mhlangu evaded the question, saying: "I don't understand the question. I'm not a lawyer."

At one point, Mahlangu asked to speak in isiZulu in order to express herself better. An interpreter was called, and she told the hearing that she found herself in a difficult situation while testifying.

"The questions I am being asked are very technical, and there's no politician in South Africa who can understand exactly what happens in their department.

"I feel I am being constrained, and I feel I am being asked questions that are beyond my role as a politician."

Some members of the crowd reacted in disbelief when she requested to speak in isiZulu. One said: "She must just answer questions."

Crouse also quizzed Mahlangu on claims that the move was a cost-cutting exercise. She said the process would have cost more per patient at some hospitals, which defeated the purpose.

But Mahlangu, without giving a direct answer, said she did not know how much money was saved.

"I'm no longer in the system," she said.

On Wednesday, Adila Hassim, the advocate representing Section 27, asked Mahlangu about the transferring of patients to Weskoppies and Sterkfontein psychiatric facilities.

Hassim said it would have would have cost "six times as much" to take care of patients, defeating the point of the cost-cutting exercise. Mahlangu said the institutions were academic hospitals.

The hearing continues.

-- News24