Former SANDF surgeon general Zola Dabula implicated in R156-million graft

The now retired South African Military Health Service surgeon general, lieutenant general Dr Zola Dabula, together with other senior officials at the defence force and the department of public works, has been implicated in R156-million graft at the 1 Military Hospital at Thaba Tshwane, Pretoria. 

The 1 Military repair and maintenance programme (Ramp), which began in 2001, turned into 21 years of corrupt activities including cash payments, theft, irregular expenditure and the mismanagement of state funds exceeding R1-billion. Today, repair work at the hospital is yet to commence.  

Dabula and two other senior officials at the defence department, together with five senior officials at public works, are suspected of being involved in irregular appointments, irregular expenditure and the expansion of repair and maintenance work at the hospital, leading to millions of rand of public money wasted.  

Dabula, who has more than three decades of experience in military health, retired in 2021 after being appointed as surgeon general in 2019. 

An independent forensic investigative report into irregularities involving repair and maintenance work at 1 Military, covering 21 years, was finally presented to parliament’s joint standing committee on defence on Thursday. 

The report was finalised in December 2020, but the defence department sat on it until its existence was raised in parliament in 2021. 

The investigation was conducted independently by Abacus Financial Crime Advisory, whose managing partner, Herman de Beer, presented the report to the joint standing committee. 

The expansion of the repair and maintenance work programme, after it initially ended in 2009 but was extended to 2011, was laid bare before the committee. 

‘Off the record’ meeting

De Beer told the committee about an “off the record” meeting, at which the alleged roleplayers, including Dabula, cleared the path for the then already failing repair programme to be extended. 

“In that meeting, the officials from both sides [public works and defence] agreed that they will change [the] Ramp [repair and maintenance programme] to a redesign and refurbishment initiative,” De Beer said. 

“That particular meeting and agreement was never documented, it was never formally introduced … all the people [in attendance] knew we were now doing refurbishment and redesign and not repair and maintenance anymore.”

Starting the Ramp and later extending it led to gross overspending of 95% between 2006 and 2011. A combined amount of R411 776 047 was spent over five years — with very little to show for it to date.  

After the expansion of the Ramp, the contract was adjusted to a “redesign and refurbishment” project. This decision, which Dabula was part of, was never documented or made into a contractual arrangement. A formal tender process was also never conducted. 

“So they [appointed contractors] were working under Ramp, but doing redesign and refurbishment,” which extended and became more costly, De Beer said. 

Lieutenant general Eric Mnisi, the adjutant general in charge of the legal division at the defence department, assured concerned committee members that the report had been submitted to the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (the Hawks). 

Minister responds

Defence Minister Thandi Modise told the committee that it would be determined “who knew what and who closed their eyes when things were happening because it can’t be that an amount that big just goes”.

Modise continued: “I want to know who the CFO [chief financial officer] was at the time; why they were not keeping an eye on this. So, for me, it is not just you are going to look at the people named here [in the report] — we need to go back, because we need to say to those currently in posts, ‘don’t think you are going to be protected if you even hear a rumour and you don’t follow it’.” 

Her office acknowledged, said Modise, that although the debacle took place “a long time ago”, the department “should have been on our feet and this matter should not have dragged on for this many years”. The newly appointed minister then apologised for her predecessors.  

The minister said she was optimistic about the current operational matters at the hospital, and told the committee: “Certain sections and certain floors are still not operational, but radiology is up and running. We need to get a move on in creating functional spaces and the restoration of theatres. We do not intend to walk away from 1 Mil. It has to be restored to what it was.”

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Eunice Stoltz
Eunice Stoltz is a general news reporter at the Mail & Guardian.

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