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Is South Africa Being Strangled by “Family” Ties

Is South Africa Being Strangled by Family Ties

Is South Africa Being Strangled by “Family” Ties


That’s how many times assassinated whistle-blower Babita Deokaran was shot just days after exposing suspected corruption to the tune of R850 million at Tembisa Hospital on Gauteng’s East Rand.

She was 53 years old.

As she lay dying outside her home, minutes after dropping her teenage daughter at school, her killers made their speedy getaway.

Over a year later, six men – Zitha Hadebe, Phakamani Hadebe, Sanele Mbhele, Nhlangano Ndlovu, Simphiwe Mazibuko, and Phakanyiswa Dladla – have been arrested and are facing trial for the shooting.

But their case was already postponed once due to unpaid legal fees and the apparent issue of an outstanding forensic report. It was recently postponed again until November 18.

The person who ordered the murder remains as yet unidentified and still at large.

Babita’s devastated family initially assumed she had been yet another victim of South Africa’s rampant street crime. But investigations soon revealed that the reason for her assassination was far more sinister.

Babita Deokaran had been in fear for her life.

As the chief director of financial accounting at Gauteng’s health department, she had previously been a witness for special investigators looking into the alleged corrupt procurement of PPE during the Covid-19 pandemic.

More recently, documents found on her laptop by investigative journalists after her death revealed that, in the days and weeks leading up to her murder, she had uncovered what she described as a politically connected mafia which had taken over the control of procurement at the Tembisa Hospital and was looting the budget.

Babita flagged over R800 million in what she thought were fraudulent transactions and tried to stop a further R100 million in upcoming suspicious payments from being processed. Examples included payments by the hospital of over R2 000 per pair of forceps that cost just R70 each and R10 000 for a domestic-style bucket.

The hospital’s irregular spending stood out to Babita when compared to other hospitals in her mandate because the alleged fraud was so clumsy. Her immediate action was to block the suspicious payments and ask her bosses to begin a deeper forensic investigation.

But right from the start, she was worried that crossing “the Tembisa guys” could be dangerous.

“Our lives could be in danger,” she warned one of her superiors in a message just days before her death.

No one had any idea how tragically prophetic her words would turn out to be.

Perhaps the biggest tragedy of Babita’s shameless killing is that the corrupt practices she uncovered are a) not limited to one hospital and b) likely to be just the tip of a very large iceberg.

“What we have seen is not unique to Tembisa Hospital,” said Prof Alex van der Heever of the University of the Witwatersrand’s School of Governance. “The practice is widespread; this is just an egregious example of what is quite common.”

This is, of course, no consolation at all to Babita’s family, who are naturally still battling to come to terms with her death. The process is made even more difficult by the tangible lack of activity from the authorities, the ongoing postponement of the trial of the accused, and the complete lack of suspects when it comes to who ordered her murder.

The case is now being handled by both the Hawks and the SIU. So far, the hospital’s chief executive, Ashley Mthunzi, has been suspended, but denies wrongdoing and says he has been made a scapegoat. The health department’s chief financial officer, Lerato Madyo, has also been suspended.

Yet all indications are that the source of the corruption which led to Babita’s death goes far deeper and further than the hospital itself.

Aristeidis Danikas is a whistleblower who, in 2004, exposed the alleged torture of prisoners by members of the Cato Manor Serious Violent Crimes Unit (which later became the Organised Crime Unit and was accused of being a death squad).

He escaped with this family to his home country of Greece but keeps a firm watch on South Africa from afar. He believes the outcome of Babita Deokaran’s murder trial lies squarely in the hands of politicians who ordered the hit, and that our judiciary system is but a weapon formed against whistleblowers.

“We do not want accountability only for the people who pulled the trigger, but for the ones who gave the order,” he says. “I have serious doubts that the politicians will give up one of their own if that’s the case, especially with elections around the corner.”

Danikas is not alone in pointing the finger of blame at people in power.

In the report into State Capture, there are numerous allegations against the so-called Tender “don” Hangwani Morgan Maumela.

Maumela is the nephew of President Ramaphosa’s first wife, and his mother was the Director of Public Health in Limpopo for almost 20 years before her recent retirement. He is also a business associate of Mr Ramaphosa’s principal political advisor, Bejani Chauke, with whom is practically a next-door neighbour in an upmarket security complex in Hyde Park that just happens to be within easy walking distance of President Ramaphosa’s personal home.

According to the report, Maumela and his cousin are on the SIU’s radar thanks to around 1 000 dodgy transactions worth over R36 million. Of these, six are Tembisa Hospital transactions made out to companies controlled by Maumela, and 12 are potentially fraudulent entities that are said to be connected to the Maumela family.

A report from News24 said that seven of Maumela’s nine companies operate from the same location – an estate in Sandton – and that he allegedly also has ties to other companies flagged by Deokaran, two of which also operate from the same estate.

These allegations would appear to be supported by an affidavit submitted to the SIU in 2020 by former Tembisa Hospital employee Lindiwe ‘Dabs’ Nkosi. According to a report in The Star, Nkosi states that tenders were given to Maumela, together with an ANC Free State Provincial Executive Committee member and a Mpumalanga multi-millionaire.

Nkosi was apparently trying to clear the name of the suspended Mthunzi, saying he voiced concerns about the red flags in procurement after multiple tenders were given to the same companies.

All these transactions were under R500 000, which means they didn’t need sign-off from the CEO and CFO.

Indeed, one of the accusations against Maumela is that he used multiple companies to tender for work of under R500 000 so his large tender acquisitions would go unnoticed.

President Ramaphosa’s spokesperson, Vincent Magwenya says Ramaphosa has no knowledge of Maumela’s business dealings.

The whole situation leaves far too many questions unanswered – especially for the grieving family of Babita Doekeran. The bravery and courage of this amazing woman saw her pay the ultimate price in her quest to expose corruption, yet 14 months on, nothing has been resolved.

Instead of the forensic audit that Babita begged for, the Gauteng Health Department carried out a randomised compliance audit of all hospitals in the province. Of the 217 companies she flagged, only 12 were scrutinised.

In addition, no action has been taken against officials, and auditors were withdrawn from the hospital on the day of her assassination.

Clearly, there are some powerful people in whose interests it is to slow down the progress of this investigation as much as possible.

Our justice system is supposed to be impartial, treating everyone the same regardless of their political connections.

This is very obviously not happening.

What needs to change in our legal system to ensure justice is done? Because everywhere I look, there is evidence of money talking and justice walking.

Even the six men accused of pulling the trigger rescinded the statements they made following their arrest that they were acting at the behest of former Health Minister Zweli Mkhize. They later claim they were tortured into giving false statements.

I’m afraid I have to agree with Babita Doekeran’s brother, Rakesh, who, when asked if he thinks the family will get justice, replied, “I have faith in our justice system, but I say that half-heartedly.”