Gauteng Premier tries to shut down Esidimeni criticism
5 March 2018
Gauteng Premier David Makhura does not understand the constitutional right to free speech and is trying to silence valid criticism about his role in the deaths of 144 Life Esidimeni patients.
He announced last week on Friday that he has “taken an extraordinary step to ask the legislature’s Integrity Commissioner, Dr Ralph Mgijima, to investigate the slanderous and malicious allegation by Mr Bloom that I lied under oath about Life Esidimeni.” He said this in the Legislature in his reply to the debate on his State of the Province address.
I would like to respond to this as follows:
Instead of referring me to the Integrity Commissioner he should stop denying that he knew that Esidimeni patients were being sent to NGOs.
He said in his State of the Province speech in February last year that he “would have never approved a plan to outsource mental health, a primary responsibility of the state to care for the vulnerable in society, to NGOs.”
He also said under oath at the Esidimeni arbitration hearings that he was unaware that patients would be sent to NGOs as he thought that there were enough beds for them in state hospitals.
The clearest evidence that contradicts his claim is that he was in the Legislature on 15 March 2016 when former Health MEC Qedani Mahlangu said in an oral reply to my questions that 1 835 patients from Esidimeni would be sent to new places before the end of June, and that “the NGOs have hired the staff. They have also been given licenses.”
The Hansard transcript records my response as follows: “I am still very, very concerned. I speak to mental health NGOs, and they tell me that there are no facilities, that it simply has not been done”.
Mahlangu also made reference to the court judgement that day in favour of the Gauteng Health Department moving Esidimeni patients to the Takalani Children’s home in Soweto despite the concern that it was not suitable to move adults there.
There was also a plethora of media reports and warnings about patients being sent to NGOs, the Premier can hardly claim ignorance in this matter.
Meanwhile, the ANC is stalling my motion in the Legislature to refer the Premier to the Integrity Commissioner concerning the issue of whether he breached the Code of Conduct and Ethics by misleading the Legislature and the Arbitration Hearings by claiming he never knew that Life Esidimeni patients were being sent to NGOs, despite evidence to the contrary, including the proceedings of the sitting on 15 March 2016.
Misleading the Legislature is a serious offense. Robust criticism of the Premier is not. It is fair to criticise his failure to stop the disastrous transfer of Esidimeni patients to NGOs. No-one should be silenced by threatening punishment. It is fair to hold a Premier to account.
Free speech can be vicious, as when Infrastructure Development MEC Jacob Mamabolo said I was “racist and chauvinist” because I called on the Premier to fire the then Health MEC Qedani Mahlangu after she disclosed the deaths of 36 patients.
Makhura did not rebuke Mamabolo for this malicious and slanderous attack on me, nor did he immediately dismiss Mahlangu which could have saved lives as her officials tried to cover up what was happening.
Instead of trying to restrict my free speech rights he should admit that he did know that Esidimeni patients were being sent to NGOs.
Issued by Jack Bloom, DA Gauteng Shadow Health MEC, 5 March 2018