OVERVIEW OF 2017 : CONTINUING CONTEMPT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS BY AN INCREASINGLY UNACCOUNTABLE STATE

Despite the divisions within the ANC the dominant rhetoric of the governing party continues to focus on radical economic transformation and the expropriation of land without compensation. This rhetoric should fool no one: The only people likely to benefit from such moves are those who already enjoy a surfeit of political and economic power, not the majority of South Africans who are poor. The human rights of people dependent on state services – including those relating to health, safety and justice – are constantly trampled on by representatives of a bloated and increasingly unaccountable government. Without a growth in awareness of how dire the situation has become, and organised civil action, a further erosion of rights is likely.

THE MYTH OF ECONOMIC EMPOWERMENT AND LAND REFORM
The massive housing backlog, and the appalling state of apartheid-era hostels, should provide the government with an ideal opportunity to empower shack and hostel dwellers with skills to enable them to upgrade and maintain the settlements or buildings in which they live. It chooses instead to award huge tenders to the politically well connected, and then dispense patronage in the form of RDP houses to win political support. Similarly, in awards for public transport it is the politically well-connected who benefit. Taxi operations are being affected by the much-vaunted ‘Go Durban’ scheme, from which politically favoured operators are allegedly benefiting. Since colonial times the informal liquor sector has been the key driver in promoting entrepreneurship and overcoming poverty. However, the largest taverns in Pietermaritzburg and certain provincial towns are now allegedly operated by one of the country’s major BRICS partners. There are unconfirmed reports that rural residents – whose indigenous land rights are already under threat from mining – are being instructed by the Department of Agriculture to compromise their own food security by growing soya. People who lodged land claims in the 1990s receive no feedback from the Department handling them and some suspect that their land is being given to non-claimants. Allegedly, most politicians own farms themselves.

ARE KILLERS AND CORRUPT POLITICIANS BEING PROTECTED?
While a Commission of Inquiry chaired by Advocate Moerane heard evidence about political violence, the murder of politically-connected people, including senior municipal employees, continued. Since the beginning of 2016 there have been approximately 44 killings (14 in 2017) which appear linked to politics. These figures exclude the approximate 100 deaths since March 2014 in Glebelands hostels. Most victims have been ANC-aligned, with evidence that the deaths of some are connected to their opposition to corruption. Those who are fighting to expose corruption remain under threat of death. Of grave concern is that there is that killers are evidently well trained, and that victims and potential victims are subject to surveillance, including through the interception of electronic communications. If this is happening the strict laws governing surveillance are being broken with impunity – which would also explain the failure of the police to arrest and charge well trained and armed hitmen. While there have been some arrests in connection with the deaths since January 2016, and at least one matter is proceeding in court, there have been no convictions. That a conviction for one of the Glebelands murders was finally obtained is thanks to the perseverance and diligence of investigating officers working under difficult conditions and a shortage of resources. Similarly, although a great deal of evidence has been made available to investigators and prosecutors about the type of corruption in government, which whistle-blowers are risking their lives in exposing, there is a dearth of prosecutions, amidst allegations that prosecutions are blocked by the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP). While good police and prosecutors struggle on it is the management of the police and prosecution services which must take responsibility for the atrociously low rate of conviction for serious crimes, including those linked to politics.
A less obvious, but crucial, factor in obstructing the course of justice is the dysfunctionality of forensic mortuary services. The gross mismanagement of these services by DoH in the province started with the appointment of the current Member of the Executive Committee (MEC) for Health, who allegedly colluded with workers who refused to be trained (as required by law), and engaged in illegal strikes and criminal actions. As a consequence, the service is left with only inexperienced pathologists (or, in a crime epicentre of Pietermaritzburg, none at all) with extremely serious consequences for justice.

CALLOUSNESS AND COVER UPS EXPOSE THE EMPTY RHETORIC OF THE PROPOSED NATIONAL HEALTH INSURANCE (NHI)
The callous conduct of government representatives and Departmental management exposed by the Commission of Inquiry into the Life Esidumeni deaths in Gauteng is characteristic of the treatment of cancer patients by the KZN executive members and Department of Health (DoH) management. Patients who had waited inordinately long periods for life saving radiotherapy at Addington hospital continued to die as the two oncology machines remained out of order for the fifth consecutive year. Despite a report released in June by the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC), which ordered that machines be repaired and patients receive treatment, it seems that only residents of the North Coast area are benefitting from a Public Private Partnership entered into by the Department of Health in the Empangeni region. There has been a noticeable clamp down on information by the DoH, which is also refusing to give patents their medical records (which are patients’ property).
The MEC has consistently supplied misleading information to the legislature. He has been protected by the national minister who has also failed to disclose important information to the national parliament. In his September presentation when he blamed the crisis on unskilled employees, singling out for particular criticism Health Technology Services (HTS). In doing so he swept under the parliamentary carpet a crucial forensic report by KZN Treasury which showed that the awarding of a contract to a service provider, KZN Oncology, which was not legally allowed to service the machines not only breached various provisions of national legislation and Treasury regulations but was done wilfully by people in management positions, including the Head of Department (HoD) – and that it was the Health Technology Services, which had been deliberately by-passed, which had refused to condone it. For refusing to comply with what are widely believed political instructions the HTS Department has, according to the Minister, been stripped of its role in procurement, and the whole procurement process (widely associated with corrupt practices) has become even more opaque.
Nor did the National Minister, when briefing parliament about procurement problems, refer to another highly irregular contract for R2,5 billion signed in 2015, by the then Acting Head of Department (Dr Simelane), with Resultant Finance. This contract committed the Department to obtaining any medical equipment worth more than R5 000 other than that it leased from Resultant Finance. It is not clear whether the existence of this contract is impacting upon the servicing of oncology equipment, including scanners which are frequently out of order (another impediment to the diagnosis and treatment of cancer patients). Apparently the Department wishes to terminate this contract, but in July 2017 Resultant Finance brought an Application against the Head of Department of Health in the Pietermaritzburg High Court. The status of this case is not known, nor is the outcome of a reported Provincial Treasury investigation into the award known.
The cancer machine saga, including insofar as it relates to irregularity in procurement, is a particularly tragic example of the gross mismanagement of the DoH. It has consistently squandered money and has recently received a qualified audit for the sixth successive year. Its irregular expenditure for the past financial year was R7,1 billion and wasteful expenditure was almost R15 million. Given that Health is, constitutionally, a concurrent jurisdiction (national and provincial) the National Minister shares responsibility for this state of affairs (including deaths which should not have happened), as does the Provincial Executive in terms of Section 133(2) of the Constitution.
Given its financial profligacy and unaccountability it would be the height of irresponsibility to give this dysfunctional department any more money and power to implement a National Health Insurance, which would probably also be used to favour the politically well-connected.

GROWING AUTHORITARIANISM?
While the SAPS and the Department of Health are prime examples, the damage done to state institutions during the past eight years cannot be over-emphasised. There are ominous militaristic rumblings from this amoral, dysfunctional government, which is showing distinctly authoritarian leanings, manifest in increasing secrecy and surveillance. These disturbing trends call for greatly increased vigilance, and organised opposition, in 2018.