Essential to punish officials who looted state coffers

Image: 123RF/ktsdesign

When he was just a little boy, I once asked my younger brother Lumumba what he would do about crime if he were to be president of the country.

Without hesitation, he responded that he would put all criminals in the ocean and drown them, then rebuild the country anew.

He was, of course, only a child who had no understanding of the world, the law and the meaning of decency.

I committed to teaching him about the importance of preserving human rights, specifically, that these rights do no cease to exist just because one commits a crime.

I found myself thinking about my younger brother’s sentiments a week ago when the National Prosecuting Authority announced that it would be resuming the case of the misuse of funds for the late former president Nelson Mandela’s funeral.

Eight years ago, while the country was mourning the death of its first democratically elected president, several people, including prominent ANC members, businessmen and women, and high-profile government officials in the Buffalo City Metro (BCM), looted state resources meant for the organising of Tata’s funeral.

According to the Hawks, more than R10m was siphoned from BCM by flouting tender processes.

Among those implicated in this scandal are MEC for health Sindiswa Gomba and ANC regional chair Phumlani Mkolo.

South African politicians and businesspeople have always been corrupt, but there are instances where one expects some degree of conscience to find expression.

One did not expect that at the funeral of a man who gave so much to our country, there would be people whose sole agenda was to milk the state of much-needed resources in one of the poorest provinces in SA.

This complete lack of conscience is unthinkable, even for the Eastern Cape that is notorious for maladministration and corruption.

It should come as no surprise to any of us, then, that we are today, in the middle of a global pandemic that has devastated national economies, facing an identical situation across the country.

Since last year various departments have been shown to have looted billions of rand meant for personal protective equipment to to help us fight the Covid-19 pandemic.

Just two weeks ago it emerged that R431m was misused or, quite frankly looted, in the Gauteng department of education.

The money was supposedly used for the “deep cleaning” and “decontamination” of schools between June and August 2020.

This was not recommended by either the department of health or the department of basic education.

Nor was there any scientific basis for it to be done since schools had been closed for six weeks at the time, and Covid-19, according to prevailing scientific research, lasted on surfaces for only three days.

Using over R200,000 per school for the process was thus wasteful and all indications are that it was done to line the pockets of tenderpreneurs.

A country where people can loot money intended for a funeral and to save the lives of people during a pandemic that has claimed millions of lives globally is a scary place in which to live.

Politicians who can do something this nefarious are not people with a conscience and are, therefore, not people who should be in leadership positions.

I cannot help but think of my brother’s proposition that dealing with a problem might require that those causing the problem must be drowned in the ocean.

But we are civilised. We don’t drown people — even the most heinous of them like Gomba, Mkolo and all those who have looted state funds in times of crisis.

We can, however, demand that they be held legally accountable.

And we must use our voting power to ensure they never again get the mandate to lead us.


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