Gauteng Finance MEC
Barbara Creecy has called for all those involved in the Life Esidimeni tragedy to be held accountable and answerable to ensure the families affected find closure.
She said urgent steps needed to be taken to turn things around in the provincial health department.
Creecy was speaking on behalf of the provincial government at the unveiling of Arch for the Arch monument, which honours Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu and marked the 21st anniversary of the signing of the constitution at Constitution Hill in Joburg on Sunday.
Reflecting on the Life Esidimeni scandal, Creecy said innocent lives were lost and it should not be put to rest until there was accountability.
Creecy said the death of 143 psychiatric patients was a deeply regretful tragedy.
“We are working with the affected families to ensure that all of them get closureand to ensure that there is full accountability, justice and closure for the families.
“All those involved in the tragedy need to understand that there can be no closure for the families without accountability.
“The disciplinary process and criminal investigation are under way to ensure that all those responsible are brought to book.
“No one must escape accountability,” Creecy said.
Speakers at the event said the tragedy also highlighted how the rights of the patients had been violated.
The arbitration hearings into the death of the patients are set to continue in the new year.
In a statement yesterday, the DA’s health spokesperson in the province, Jack Bloom, said top politicians who were ultimately accountable to the tragedy should provide answers.
“Former health MEC Qedani Mahlangu is due to testify on January 22, followed by Gauteng Premier David Makhura and Health Minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi.
“I hope that they are not as evasive as the Gauteng Health Department officials who have appeared at the hearings,” Bloom said.
“It is clear that former MEC Mahlangu was the driving force behind the cancellation of the Esidimeni contract, and health officials were scared to challenge the reckless transfer of patients to illegally registered NGOs.
“Suspended health department head (Tiego) Dr Selebano has said that the budget council chaired by Premier Makhura had approved the cancellation of the Esidimeni contract for budgetary reasons.”
Bloom said Makhura should be probed for ignoring all the warnings sent to him.
The event celebrated the signing of the constitution by former president Nelson Mandela in Sharpeville on December 10, 1996.
“It is a living, breathing museum where the past, present and future collide in a glorious paradox that celebrates the victory of our present-day democracy.
“It leaves you forever changed with the unrelenting resolve that ‘never again must one human being treat another human being in this manner’,” said Constitution Hill chief executive Dawn Robertson.
Paying tribute to Tutu, women’s rights activist Joyce Seroke said the first time she met Tutu was in 1978, with his “infectious smile and chuckle”.
“When he was appointed the archbishop of southern Africa, he showed us women that he was a supporter of gender equality. He was unhappy about the plight of women priests who had been denied ordination by the church for many years.
“He compared the exclusion of women from priesthood with the system of apartheid,” Seroke said.
She added that Tutu was bold to criticise the current government for deviating from the constitution.
“That in itself is going to inspire our young people”
Also paying tribute to Tutu, Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane said it was befitting to honour him.
“The citizens of a free nation should honour their brave men. The men of stainless integrity of will and intellectual force. Such a man of integrity, will and intellectual force is none other than our beloved Desmond Tutu,” Ndungane said.
In a video recording, Tutu said he was humbled and grateful for the sculpture in his honour. “Our greatest journey lies in our ability to translate the words of the constitution,” he added.