/ 1 September 2022

Outa demands accountability for Deokaran assassination

Candlelight Vigil For Corruption Fighter Babita Deokaran In Joburg
Too little protection: Slain corruption fighter Babita Deokaran was not safe after making disclosures relating to personal protective equipment fraud at the Gauteng health department. (Fani Mahuntsi/Gallo Images)

The Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa) staged a peaceful protest outside the Gauteng health department’s offices in Johannesburg on Wednesday demanding an investigation into alleged corruption in the department, which is alleged to have led to the assassiation of whistleblower Babita Deokaran. 

The protesters a black, white and red banner emblazoned with the words “We need public servants not executives.” 

The chief executive of the civil action organisation, Wayne Duvenage, said the protest intended to highlight the corruption at Tembisa Hospital. 

“This morning I had written to the MEC for Gauteng on some of our concerns we’ve written in the past and raised that they are not responding to our letters and requests for information. The protest action is also about the corruption taking place at the Tembisa Hospital, which is being very, very lethargically handled and is slow to take action a year after Babita Deokaran’s assassination,” he said. 

Deokaran, a senior employee of the Gauteng health department, was assassinated outside her home in Winchester Hills, Johannesburg, after taking her daughter to school on 23 August 2021.  

The Special Investigating Unit (SIU) said Deokaran had been an important witness in investigations into corruption at the health department after the inquiry into the irregular awarding of more than R332.5-million in tenders for personal protective equipment. 

The protest follows the precautionary suspension of the chief financial officer of the Gauteng health department, Lerato Madyo, and the chief executive of Tembisa Hospital, Ashley Mthunzi, by the Gauteng government on Friday.

The provincial government said in a statement that the officials were suspended to ensure “their presence in the office does not impede the investigation of the serious allegations pertaining to the improper procurement and payment of service providers at Tembisa Hospital”.

“Given the seriousness of the allegations and the possible link to the murder case of Babita Deokaran — former chief director of finance, exemplary public servant and courageous whistleblower who was brutally killed a year ago — the Special Investigating Unit has been appointed to investigate these allegations with urgency.”

Gauteng Premier David Makhura welcomed the suspensions in the statement and confirmed that the matter had been referred to the SIU for forensic investigation. 

The South African Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu) welcomed Makhura’s decision, saying in a statement that the suspensions were “long overdue”.  

“It has become apparent through investigative reporting that these individuals are facing serious allegations of corruption, and their suspension was long overdue. They are implicated in the misuse and looting of more than R800-million in Gauteng’s health department, with specific transactions that illustrate conniving of friends and couples and sheer acts of corruption at Tembisa Provincial Tertiary Hospital,” said Saftu. 

But theTembisa Hospital Institutional Labour caucus (ILC) which represents among others the National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu) and the National Union of Public Service and Allied Workers (Nupsaw), issued a statement on Monday rejecting the suspensions and calling them “desperate and irrational”.  

“On Friday, 26 August 2022, the ILC sent an invitation to the premier seeking his audience regarding the issue. In the letter, we warned him against taking any drastic decision on the CEO matter. But, instead, he issued a media statement to place the CEO, Dr Mthunzi, on precautionary suspension pending an investigation. The ILC rejects this suspension with the contempt it deserves,” the ILC said.  Nupsaw distanced itself from the invitation sent by the ILC. In a statement published on Tuesday, Nupsaw said: “As a union, we feel that the labour caucus unfairly and wrongfully used our name to support a view that we do not share as a matter of principle. That is why we have taken a decision to withdraw from that caucus. We also want to put it categorically clear that we do not support the view expressed in that letter, which essentially calls for the Gauteng Premier David Makhura to lift the suspension.”