Fury as corruption scandals undermine South Africa's coronavirus fight

Peta Thornycroft
·4-min read
Recently filled graves are seen in the Olifantsveil Cemetery outside Johannesburg, South Africa, Wednesday Aug. 5, 2020. - Jerome Delay /AFP
Recently filled graves are seen in the Olifantsveil Cemetery outside Johannesburg, South Africa, Wednesday Aug. 5, 2020. - Jerome Delay /AFP
Coronavirus Article Bar with counter
Coronavirus Article Bar with counter

As coronavirus cases gallop through South Africa, the country’s ruling party, the African National Congress (ANC) has been hit with a string of corruption allegations. 

When the pandemic began to spread through the country, the government put in place emergency procurement measures to ensure that the health service had a steady supply of protective clothing and gear.

But now the government’s procurement scheme has been hit by several major allegations of fraud, corruption and nepotism. 

Earlier this week, President Cyril Ramaphosa’s spokesperson Khusela Diko took a “leave of absence” from the government, pending investigations into allegations involving a £5million Covid-19 procurement project and her husband Thandisizwe Diko’s company, Bhaca Projects. 

Two senior ANC members connected to the City of Johannesburg were also asked to step aside while the matter is under investigation.

Another scandal is swirling around the ANC’s secretary-general and former premier of the Free State province, Ace Magashule. 

Mr Magashule’s two sons, Tsepiso and Thato, were last month awarded contracts for Covid-19 related goods and services valued at about £120,000 by one of their father’s associates in the provincial treasury. 

This has provoked rage in South Africa, as Mr Magashule has previously been accused by a wide variety of critics of gross corruption during his term as premier of the Free State province. Mr Magashule has denied all allegations of corruption. 

Mr Magashule told the South African outlet News24, “Tell me of one leader of the ANC who has not done business with government.” 

Previously, Mr Magashule has been named in connection with corruption allegations made by South Africa’s State Capture Commission of Inquiry, an organisation which has been investigating multi-billion-dollar corruption scandals that occurred during the presidency of Jacob Zuma from 2009 to 2018

In a series of late-night tweets earlier this week, finance minister Tito Mboweni called for punishments for corrupt officials as well as stronger leadership on the issue.

“A tender is an ethical contract. It is not a blank cheque to deceive and steal. And stealing from unwell people! During a Covid-19 pandemic! 

“We should be working together to defeat the virus. Not see this as an opportunity to defraud the state and unwell people. We are watching you and there has to be consequences. For sure. Game over!” Mr Mboweni wrote. 

On Wednesday, Mr Mboweni ended the state’s emergency procurement process for personal protective equipment and protective clothing, saying business is back to usual for government suppliers.

No sooner had the treasury announced the Covid-19 budget, than thieves were already assembled at the door, waiting to steal, said Mr Mboweni.

“The way our economy has developed over the last 26 years means opportunities are limited in the market place, so people use corruption,” Professor Steven Friedman, from the University of Johannesburg, said during an interview with the South African Broadcasting Corporation.  

 “If [President] Cyril [Ramaphosa] was replaced tomorrow, the problems are not going to go away. We remain with corruption and it is a very deep-rooted problem.”

Monica, a businesswoman in the north of the Kwa Zulu Natal province, called SA FM, South Africa’s main national radio station to complain about the corruption:

“I am in a war with myself. We are black people, and we are so hungry, and the little there is, is taken over by political leaders. I used to love this organisation [ANC], but it is now a shame for our nation…a politician’s son gets a tender. So many people at grassroots trying to get tenders, but are never considered,” she said.

“Whatever money comes to South Africa…it is not coming to help us. It will not stop us from dying.”

David Lewis, executive director of Corruption Watch, a South African NGO, added: "It is unethical for relatives of ANC leaders to be awarded tenders given what we know about previous corruption, some of which is now going through the courts."

In the light of the accusations, President Ramaphosa appointed a six-member Cabinet committee to deal with all allegations of corruption related to Covid-19 procurement. 

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