Through the exposures of investigative journalism, and the proceedings of national government Commissions of Inquiry, South Africans learnt this year of the depths to which ‘state capture’ corruption had dragged their beloved country. In KZN the reports of the Moerane Commission and Public Protector, despite some serious shortcomings, confirmed the link between greed, corruption and politics, and their role in the killing of politicians and municipal officials. While politicians claim they will act upon the findings of the Moerane Commission report experience suggests that the findings of commissions are seldom implemented, especially if they are likely to embarrass those who are governing. While there have been some arrests and convictions for politically-linked killings this year, the failure of police management and politicians to ensure the safety of those fighting corruption shows the lack of any real commitment to rooting out this evil.
Corruption in local government enjoys some prominence because of its association with killings, especially those of councillors and senior municipal officials, but it is rife in other levels of government (grossly irregular procurement and nepotism), and many traditional authorities. In January 2018 ANC councillor Sifiso Mlambo was shot dead at his Mpembeni home (near Richards Bay), following an earlier failed attempt on his life. Available evidence suggests that this killing was linked not to ANC politics but to alleged gross corruption in structures associated with the local traditional authority that he (and others targeted) have tried to address. As the killings of political activists, office bearers and municipal officials continued, the announcement in May by newly appointed Minister of Police Bheki Cele that police investigators from outside of the province would be deployed was widely welcomed, since very few breakthroughs have been made by local task teams. Of the 22 deaths in the run up to the 2016 local government elections, only one court case is known to be in progress. A noticeable exception is the success of dedicated local detectives working on Glebelands cases who, in the past year, have secured the first convictions of hit men linked to the carnage in the hostel complex. Several arrests have been made for the killing of politicians since the new task team started operating but the quality of the evidence, and whether those arrested are found guilty. remains to be seen. Of the fifty plus politically-linked murders since early 2016 (including around eleven in 2018, and excluding those in Glebelands) there are no reported convictions. Cases of gross corruption – such as those exposed by ANC corruption-busters in the Sisonke and Harry Gwala municipalities in 2016, and under investigation since then – have dragged on for years. At the root of this failure to bring criminals to book is police incompetence and corruption, the failure of IPID to deal with it, and easy access to guns and hit men, in which the taxi industry plays a pivotal role. The Moerane Commission findings skirted around these core issues.
Despite the government anti-corruption rhetoric, the conduct of provincial and national government representatives suggests otherwise. For example, a 2017 KZN Treasury forensic report details Department of Health’s provincial management’s gross violation of Treasury regulations and the Public Finance Management Act (PFMA). Despite these violations being linked to the scandalous failure of the provincial department to maintain almost new state-or-the-art oncology machines, leading to the unnecessary deaths of countless of cancer patients, no criminal charges are known to have been opened (i.e. for breaking PFMA and the Combating of Corrupt Activities Act). Cancer patients die while the provincial Department of Health has had a qualified audit for several years running and incurring irregular expenditure of billions of rand annually. If it transpires that the Member of Executive Committee for Health, Dr S Dhlomo, did not open criminal cases against those named in the forensic report, he himself would be presumed guilty of breaking the Prevention and Combating of Corrupt Activities Act. In terms of the Constitution, the Premier of the province, and other executive members to whom this corruption was drawn, would also probably be culpable.
Government’s failure to implement the recommendations of the Public Protector, in her report released in August 2018, sends out a very clear message that fighting corruption is likely to be a death sentence. When he was shot in 2017, and subsequently died, ANC activist Sindiso Magaqa, was working to expose gross corruption involving renovations to the Umzimkhulu Memorial Hall. His close comrade friends Les Stuta and Thabiso Zulu picked up the baton and spoke out about his endeavours, with Zulu subsequently giving evidence about that, and other politically-linked corruption, at the Moerane Commission. The death threats then started. The Public Protector investigated the matter of the hall and the threats to Stuta and Zulu arising from it and, in a report released in mid-December, confirmed that, among other things, proper procurement procedures had been breached, and millions of rand of irregular expenditure had been incurred. Her earlier report, in August, had taken into account that independent security threat assessments by state agencies had confirmed that the lives of Stuta and Zulu were in danger. The Minister and National Commissioner of Police were instructed to ensure that the two men were provided with the security recommended following the threat analysis, at state expense. The Minister and Commissioner have ignored this instruction, and, despite an appeal to parliament – to whom they are responsible – in October, no security has been provided for them. Their lives remain in grave danger, probably from their own comrades at whom they have pointed fingers.
Compare the situation of Stuta and Zulu with that of investigative journalists in Italy who are provided with police protection when under threat. Could there be a clearer message – from government itself – that exposing corruption should be avoided if one wants to stay alive? Should any harm befall Stuta and Zulu it is at the same government that the fingers will be pointed.