State lawyer: Dr Selebano can’t be treated differently from other witnesses

Today is the first day of Dr Barney Selebano's testimony after a high court judge dismissed his application for a reprieve.

A screengrab of suspended Gauteng Health HOD Dr Barney Selebano at the Esidimeni hearing on 5 December 2017.

JOHANNESBURG - Gauteng's suspended health HOD has been sworn in to testify at the Esidimeni arbitration hearings with his lawyers asking for him not to be cross-examined.

Tuesday is the first day of Doctor Barney Selebano's testimony after a High Court judge dismissed his application for a reprieve.

Selebano is a key figure in the Esidimeni project in which 1,700 mentally ill people were transferred to ill-equipped NGOs after the Gauteng Health Department terminated its contract with the Esidimeni group.

At least 143 of these patients died.

Selebano’s lawyer attempted to have him only apologise to families gathered for the deaths of their loved ones.

Senior counsel Owen Cook told retired deputy chief justice Dikgang Moseneke that his client has already told the health ombudsman that he takes accountability for his part in the tragic project.

“I do not see that my client can be of any assistance to this dispute resolution process.”

But Moseneke told Cook that Selebano would be protected if anything unfair is put to him during cross-examination.

“If there’s any interrogation that’s not fair, I’m here to look after him.”

State lawyer Tebogo Hutamo then told the hearing that Selebano will not be treated differently to any other witness who has appeared before him.

“He can’t be treated any different from all other witnesses.”

Selebano's cagey answer to Moseneke’s question about what he thought of the Precious Angels NGO when he eventually shut it down, was: “I hear what you want me to say, I hear what you want me to say.”

Selebano has told the Esidimeni hearings he only found out about problems with the transfer of patients in July last year when Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi phoned him.

By this time, dozens of patients had already died.

Selebano says he received a call from Motsoaledi who ordered him to move fast and take patients out of the NGO because they were dying in large numbers there.

“The minister said, ‘We are not going to afford to have any other patient demising now. Move and ensure the patients do not demise.’”

The suspended Gauteng Health HOD confirmed that he did indeed sign a letter addressed to management at Life Esidimeni, letting them know the department was terminating its contract.

However, he also added that he didn’t compile the letter or make the decision to stop business with Esidimeni.