Esidimeni move 'cost-cutting', suspended health head says

File: Barney Selebano, the suspended head of the Gauteng Health Department, claims he was not to blame for the deaths of psychiatric patients moved from Esidimeni facilities. Photo: Getrude Makhafola/ANA

JOHANNESBURG - The man who authorised the relocation of psychiatric patients from Life Esidimeni centres to unlicensed non-governmental organisations (NGOs) said there was nothing he could do to stop the moves.

Barney Selebano faced the Esidimeni arbitration proceedings on Tuesday after losing a court battle to maintain his silence.

Selebano said at the time he signed the letter ending the contract between Life Esidimeni and the Gauteng Health Department, he had no reason to doubt what was presented to him by now suspended mental health director Makgabo Manamela.

"I couldn't stop the project, the project was being implemented. Patients were being moved, you can't simply overrule people."

READ: Esidimeni: Manamela refuses to shoulder the blame

In August last year, he read media reports and statements from the Democratic Alliance that former Life Esidimeni patients had died.

He acted only after he received a call from national Health Minister Aaron Motsoeledi, he said.

"I closed all the NGOs ..."

Selebano insisted that as head of department, he could not have known what was happening on the ground.

He said the department was following an order from National Treasury to cut costs and singled out the Life Esidimeni contract as a money-saving option.

“Why would you choose the most vulnerable people to do this [with]," inquiry chair Dikgang Moseneke asked him – a question Selebano was asked to ponder overnight.

Selebano will resume his testimony on Wednesday.


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