In South Africa, where corruption has always been rife, the spread of COVID-19 has turned into a looting spree. According to media reports, almost R450 billion of money earmarked for the country’s COVID-19 response has been stolen.
In some instances, companies with links to high-ranking government officials and senior members of the ruling African National Congress (ANC), were awarded multi-million rand contracts to provide services like personal protective equipment and other medical supplies.
Now, President Cyril Ramaphosa has written a letter to the ANC, asking the organisation he leads to fight corruption within its ranks.
“I am sure that you are aware that across the nation there is a sense of anger and disillusionment at reports of corruption in our response to the coronavirus pandemic,” Ramaphosa said in the letter.
This anger, Ramaphosa added, is understandable and justified. One of the most high profile cases of COVID-19 corruption involves Ramaphosa’s spokesperson, Khusela Diko.
The Sunday Independent revealed in July that a company owned by Madzikane II Thandisizwe Diko — Diko’s husband — was awarded contracts worth R125 million by the Gauteng Department of Health.
According to Sunday Independent, Diko, the spokesperson, is also close friends with Loyiso Lugayeni-Masuku, the wife of the Gauteng member of the executive council (MEC) for health, Bandile Masuku.
“In recent weeks, we have heard stories of tenders for personal protective equipment that have been given to individuals associated with ANC leaders and of public servants flouting the law in issuing tenders,” Ramaphosa said.
“What has caused the greatest outrage is that there are private sector companies and individuals (including civil servants) who have exploited a grave medical, social, and economic crisis to wrongfully enrich themselves.”
He added: “This is an unforgivable betrayal for the millions of South Africans who are being negatively affected by the impact of COVID-19, experiencing hunger daily, hopelessness, and joblessness.”
Meanwhile, just as it has done elsewhere in the world, COVID-19 has also led to job losses and increased hunger in South Africa; critical issues that Ramaphosa said were a government priority.
When Ramaphosa announced measures in March that would be put in place to help mitigate some of the economic effects of COVID-19, he also included increasing the social grant that’s awarded monthly to children, child-headed households, pensioners, and people living with disabilities.
Ramaphosa also announced the introduction of the basic income grant for people who are unemployed.
Ramaphosa’s letter to the ANC comes some weeks after he announced the establishment of an inter-ministerial committee to investigate alleged corruption and fraud related to COVID-19 resources.
Speaking after the launch of the inter-ministerial committee, Justice and Correctional Services Minister Ronald Lamola said the committee had started investigating charges of corruption related to food parcels, social grants, personal protective equipment (PPE) and other medical equipment, as well as funds earmarked for the temporary employer/employee relief scheme.
Lamola said: “Cabinet welcomes the announcement that at least 36 corruption-related cases are at various stages of investigation and prosecution. These cases send a strong message that [the government will not tolerate any acts of corruption, particularly among its officials, and that all preparators will be arrested and prosecuted.”
He added that the committee would act without “fear or favour”.
As one of the steps of tackling corruption within the ANC, Ramaphosa said at a briefing on Monday, the party’s national executive committee (NEC) has decided that officials who are found guilty of corruption should resign from their leadership positions.