Former Gauteng health MEC Qedani Mahlangu, currently testifying at the Life Esidimeni arbitration hearings, says her family has been victimised because of the tragedy and has asked South Africans to leave her family alone, according to Eyewitness News (EWN).
During her testimony at the hearing on Thursday night, Mahlangu reportedly said that her 80-year-old aunt had been harassed by a nurse at a hospital when she realised she was related to Mahlangu.
Mahlangu was MEC for health when 143 mentally ill patients died after being moved from Life Esidimeni institutions to nongovernmental organisation (NGOs), many of which were not equipped to care for them. She resigned last year.
After three days of testimony, Mahlangu reportedly gave her closing remarks on Thursday night. The families of those who died reportedly walked out while she was speaking.
"My family has taken strain because of my voluntary role that I've taken in government and I've tried my best to do my work. And I do want to say to South Africans once again, and I apologise and I hope that this does not happen again but my family should not suffer on the basis of the things that happened in the conduct of the work I was doing as a politically deployed cadre," Mahlangu reportedly said.
On Thursday, Mahlangu also said she could not take personal responsibilities for the deaths.
According to News24, she said, "I cannot carry personal blame, I was not working for my personal self. I carry the political blame simply because of the position I held at the time," she said.
She also took issue with the way she was questioned, saying: "The questions I am being asked are very technical and there's no politician in South Africa that 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," she said.
Daily Maverick reported that she blamed the issue on officials in her department whom, she said, did not give her accurate information about what was going on at the NGOs.
"...if... I was given accurate information at the time, [if] I was given accurate facts about what was going on in the NGOs, or the potentials risks by the officials, we would not be sitting here today," she reportedly said.
However, Advocate Adila Hassim, who represented the families of the deceased, quizzed Mahlangu on several instances where the department was warned about the danger it had placed the patients in.
Mahlangu claimed she did not know about the complaints at the time.