South Africa’s sickness

Douglas Gibson writes on those who have sought to profit from a pandemic

South Africa’s sickness is not Covid-19. It is greed.

Written nearly three thousand years ago, the book of Proverbs, chapter 20, verse 17 tells us: “Food gained by fraud tastes sweet, but one ends up with a mouth full of gravel.” That seems not to deter the private sector fraudsters or those who feed at the public trough.

The pandemic is a national tragedy in terms of human cost and economic ruination following the dismal economic situation caused by ANC policies. But not everyone saw the pandemic in those terms; there are many greedy people: especially the children, friends and relatives of the well-connected, who saw it as a golden opportunity to get their hands on the public money intended to help the sick and the poor.

The high-profile example has been the involvement in a PPE scandal by President Ramaphosa’s spokesperson Khusela Diko and her husband who describes himself as “King” Madikizane II Thandisizwe, “king” of the AmaBhaca. The Eastern Cape government has denied that he is a king and stated that he is the chief of two villages. So much for his company, “Royal” Bhaca.

What shocked, apart from the R125m contract allegedly awarded because of the couple’s connections with Gauteng Health MEC, Dr Bandile Masuku and his wife, Loyiso, MMC in the Johannesburg Metro, and apart also from the excuse that the contract had been an “error of judgement,” was the unexplained grossly inflated prices for the PPE equipment that they would buy, add their mark-up and then sell to the Gauteng Health Department.

It becomes clearer each day that the emergency funding, bypassing the supply chain rules, is an excuse to pay money to the well-connected, many of whom form new companies for that purpose, diverting as much money as possible from the poor and the sick. BBBEE has become a fig-leaf for further enriching a small group of insiders at public expense. And being a black woman-owned company with connections gives an even easier entrée to public money, often without such things as competitive quotes, tenders or pricing by officials. This is rife at all levels of government and in every SOE.

Ashor Sarupen, MP, told parliament recently: “…we are seeing government officials act with impunity, ignoring regulations for emergency procurement, working with so-called service providers to loot coffers of the state, and even dish out government food relief in ANC regalia, when they aren’t stealing food parcels themselves.”

It is no surprise that two sons of Ace Magashule, ANC Secretary General, are crack businessmen, each having secured tenders in the protective equipment field.

Siviwe Gwarube, MP, DA Shadow Minister of Health, has called on the government and all provinces to follow the Western Cape example and publish the names of companies awarded contracts; their boards of directors; the value of each contract; the service being provided and the status of those contracts.

Acceptance of this public scrutiny proposal would go some way to counter the insatiable greed for grabbing public money that is part of South Africa’s sickness.

Douglas Gibson is a former opposition chief whip in parliament and former ambassador to Thailand. His website is douglasgibsonsouthafrica.com.

This article first appeared in The Star newspaper.