01 Sep 2020
Two new words have entered the South African lexicon — “plundemic” and “covidpreneur” capture a cynical response to the coronavirus emergency.
A more vivid label for the allegations of sleaze linked to the procurement of emergency supplies by President Ramaphosa’s government came from the director-general of the World Health Organisation.
“Corruption related to PPE . . . for me it’s actually murder,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said. “Because if health workers work without PPE, we’re risking their lives. So, it’s criminal and it’s murder and it has to stop.”
A fresh corruption scandal linked to the allocation of at least half of the £470 million earmarked for emergency Covid relief has sparked a wave of anger among South Africans who are still punch-drunk after years of state-sponsored looting.
It is hard now to recall the early acclaim won by Mr Ramaphosa, 67, for his decisive response to the pandemic. Early grumbles that local government officials were pilfering food parcels meant for families mushroomed into a criminal investigation into hundreds of shady tenders.
Under suspicion are government departments, municipalities and figures connected to the senior ranks of the ruling African National Congress.
Among them is Khusela Diko, the president’s spokeswoman, and Bandile Masuku, the most senior health official in the country’s biggest province, over a £7.6 million PPE deal that benefited family members.
In what Mr Ramaphosa claimed was a “watershed moment that marks a new era of transparency”, he ordered that all pandemic contracts be made public.
The details — how millions of pounds set aside to ease suffering was stolen via orders that were never delivered, or filched through overblown prices — have done little to calm the fury.
The Institute for Security Studies has recorded a sharp rise in incidents of civil unrest as being due to “frustration and disgust at a political elite believed to be out of touch with the plight of ordinary people”.
In a typical example of profligacy, surgical gloves that would typically cost a few pence each were procured by the cash-strapped Free State province for between £10 and £16 a pair.
Forty poorly built shacks to house newly destitute families cost the authorities in Limpopo province £30,000 each. The family of one businessman from Eastern Cape expressed shock when they saw him listed as the successful bidder on a £50,000 PPE tender two years after his death.
An inter-ministerial committee overseeing the inquiry heard that hundreds of contracts to provide essentials such as protective kit, hospital and quarantine sites, catering and ventilators were handed to pubs, bakeries, car washing firms and letting agents with no relevant experience.
Mr Ramaphosa was quick to condemn as “scavengers” those feeding off a catastrophe that has cost millions of jobs and set back the economy by almost a century. Charities and communities have been left to plug gaps left by a haphazard state response.
“It is like a pack of hyenas circling wounded prey,” Mr Ramaphosa said, as he warned that “perpetrators are going to be dealt with decisively and harshly”.
Still, vowing to get tough has been his refrain since he succeeded Jacob Zuma in 2018. Yet, the plundering has continued and the president’s pledge to root out the rot sounds hollow.
By Jane Flanagan, The Times, 31 August 2020
Read more at The Times
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