‘Patients were put in concentration camps’ – Is a politician’s resignation where the buck stops?

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This according to legal experts‚ who say criminal or civil proceedings may be initiated against her.

The EFF and ANCYL have already indicated their intention of pressing for a criminal trial.

In his report‚ national health ombudsman Professor Malegapuru Makgoba blasted a decision by the Gauteng health department which saw 1‚317 mentally ill and intellectually impaired patients rapidly moved from various Life Esidimeni care homes to 27 unlicensed NGOs.

The patients were placed in NGOs in a state-private partnership.

Makgoba said the MEC’s decision to move patients was “reckless‚ unwise‚ flawed with inadequate planning” and further criticised her for not knowing how many people had died when the tragedy first came to light. He found at least 94 patients had died.

The police are conducting inquests into the deaths of some patients‚ which the ombud urged to be conducted more speedily. “Action where it is deemed justified can be taken‚” he said‚ although noting that laying criminal charges were not part of his ambit.

Mahlangu’s resignation was announced on Wednesday. Gauteng Premier David Makhura did not respond to questions about laying criminal charges‚ saying “the ombudsman had dealt with the issue”.

Families whose relatives are in NGOs or have died have also suggested they want to bring legal papers against the MEC‚ but these court papers have not been finalised.

Lawson Naidoo‚ a lawyer and executive secretary for the Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution‚ said: “The fact of resignation should be the minimum response”.

Professor Shadrack Gutto of Unisa said Mahlangu’s resignation is unusual for someone holding a political office in government and that this was the one positive aspect of the matter.

“We should expect others in the same position to accept that they did not do their jobs properly and should step aside‚ which helps with moving forward.”

He said‚ however‚ that resignation is not enough.

“[The patients] were put in concentration camps without proper medical care or facilities. There were multiple violations of the Bill of Rights. The families really require proper compensation by the government and the private institutions.”

Gutto also said that responsible individuals – like Mahlangu – should prosecuted.

“This is a criminal act. Police must investigate the constitutional responsibility of those individuals.”

Naidoo said criminal charges could be levelled against Mahlangu but that the focus should rather be assisting the victims of the tragedy – the families of patients.

Families may submit Makgoba’s findings to police for further investigation‚ seeking prosecution.

If the National Prosecuting Authority decides not to prosecute‚ they may attempt to prosecute Mahlangu and other responsible individuals privately.

They may also sue the state and Mahlangu in her personal capacity for damages.

Previously some government caught in scandals have been removed from their posts‚ only to reappear in public office later.

Arts and Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa previously served as minister of police. It was under his leadership that the SA Police Service came under fire for the 2012 Marikana massacre. Mthethwa was said to be demoted to the arts ministry in a cabinet reshuffle by President Jacob Zuma in 2014.

Last year the Democratic Alliance fought tooth and nail in court to have former SABC COO Hlaudi Motseoneng removed from his position‚ after former Public Protector Thuli Madonsela found he was he had lied about his matric qualification and irregularly increased his salary.

Gutto said South Africans have a responsibility to turn to the courts when they believe someone is unfit to hold public office.

– Additional reporting by Katharine Child

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