Opinion: Peaceful protestors to PPE and SAPS. The COVID-Chronicles are unfolding

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After serving 27 long years in prison, Nelson Mandela is finally released. A new, prosperous era dawns on South Africa. An era which leads to the end of apartheid and the start of the 1994 multiracial general elections. It is a time in South African history, which should have been the start of something profoundly amazing, something which at least, superseded its beginning twenty odd years later. 

But now, 21 years after Madiba’s presidency has ended, has the once first world, South Africa, really changed for the better? Has the ANC stuck to a high ethics code as proudly showcased by Mandela? Or has the government shattered his dreams, yet used his sacred platform as the trojan horse for their “updated ideologies and goals”. 

There is no need to even state the obvious like: COVID-19 has exposed the vulnerability and true, the terrifyingly scary true state of our Government and Country by direct extension. 

It seems the pandemic is rapidly changing the way we absorb what political leaders say, as well as how they are dropping the ball without any recourse, regardless of the magnitude of the direct implications on us, the citizens.

On July 24, people from the tourism and hospitality industry took to the streets in Cape Town to join the #ServeUsPlease protest.

A protest which was organised outside Parliament to highlight the plight of those who work within the various sectors, which are now crumbling at a rapid pace due to the pandemic.

Despite the protest being peaceful, with the protestors practising social distancing and wearing face masks, the protestors were met with hostility by the police and the protest was considered illegal. The police used water cannons and stun grenades on the protestors.

Why use such force on Taxpaying, job-creating protestors who have a valid, massive issue? There was no threat or damage being incited nor practised, yet the protestors were met with hostility. 

Why is our Government, not simply just showing its people that they can pitch up and change the awful fate of tens of thousands of South Africans?

Here is a scenario for you: All restaurants close down, that means no more of the obvious like waiting jobs, bar staff, cleaners, chefs, admin, management roles, delivery people and so on. But have you thought about the rest? How about the thousands of logistic companies who travel millions of kilometres per year, supplying the restaurant industry, all impacted? Or what about all the contracted suppliers from gas to cleaning materials, all impacted. The ripple effect is insanity and the do you know why? 

This is South Africa, the land built on tourism. Without it and its partner industries being handled with tender care, we will lose more than you or I can fathom. 

So with the above in mind and a bit of common sense, why would these people be treated as violent criminals? Do the SAPS just have a general rule with protestors, as in violent or not, you are getting the “hammer”? If so, surely that is against the constitution regarding freedom of speech? As this would go directly against their reason for employment, to protect and uphold the law. 

However, this could simply be put down to an isolated incident. But, if so, why? What gave the SAPS the impression that there was a reason to use force during a peaceful protest? In South Africa, we have seen our fair share of brutal riots. Whereby SAPS members were truly in danger and seeing every onlooking good South African being appreciative of our boys and girls in blue. 

But, this is not that and needs addressing, secondly only to the actual issue at hand…Saving the tourism and hospitality industries.   

Then there is the blatant corruption that seems to be flourishing during the pandemic.

On Thursday, July 23, President Cyril Ramaphosa discussed the funds which were meant to be pumped into the community during this difficult time. He spoke about millions of Rands going back into the country to help those in need.

Yet, at the same time, he admitted that it is concerning to hear about instances where funds are stolen, where they are misused, where goods are overpriced, where food parcels are diverted from needy households – where there is corruption and mismanagement of public funds.

“Increasingly, we are hearing allegations about fraudulent UIF claims, overpricing of goods and services, violation of emergency procurement regulations, collusion between officials and service providers, abuse of food parcel distribution and the creation of fake non-profit organisations to access relief funding,” he said.

Furthermore, he emphasised that from the outset of the government’s response to the pandemic, the country’s leaders have been quite clear that there should be no scope for corruption in the use of these resources.

“More so than at any other time, corruption puts lives at risk. We, therefore, put in place several preventative measures,” he said during his speech.

In fact, a collaborative and coordinating centre was created to strengthen the collective efforts among law enforcement agencies to prevent, detect, investigate and prosecute COVID-19 related corruption.

This centre brings together nine state institutions. These are the Financial Intelligence Centre, the Independent Police Investigative Directorate, the National Prosecuting Authority, the Hawks, Crime Intelligence and the SAPS Detective Service, the South African Revenue Service, the Special Investigating Unit and the State Security Agency. 

With an operational hub at the Financial Intelligence Centre, this centre is investigating allegations of corruption in areas such as the distribution of food parcels, social relief grants, the procurement of personal protective equipment and other medical supplies, and UIF special COVID-19 scheme. And at face value appears to be winning.

At least 36 cases are currently at various stages of investigation and prosecution.

One of these cases includes the Department of Social Development, which faced serious allegations around the irregular procurement of Personal Protective Equipment and blankets.

According to Premier Sihle Zikalala, the forensic investigations began after the serious allegations were made.

“The investigation was prompted by various allegations that were being reported even in the public space, alleging that the procurement contracts were inflated, and were linked to “connected” individuals.”

Owing to the seriousness of the allegations, in April this year, Zikalala says the KwaZulu-Natal Provincial Executive Council resolved to assign the Provincial Treasury to investigate alleged irregularities in the procurement of PPE worth R19-million and blankets worth R22-million by the Department of Social Development.

Which included, among others, hand sanitizers, pocket wet wipes, face towels and not forgetting, soaps.

The investigation highlighted significant irregularities, which were apparently caused by inadequate and ineffective systems of internal controls with the provincial Department of Social Development.

These included the purchase orders for PPE being issued to 11 service providers prior to the approval of the procurement submission by the Accounting officers. Some of the service providers exceeded the minimum amount of purchase as regulated under Treasury instruction notes.

In some instances, quotations were changed as much as three times higher, and on each occasion, the quantities of the items were reduced in order to reduce the total cost of procurement.

However, most noticeably there was no reduction of the pricing per unit. As a result of the above, the investigation concluded that all payments made to the service providers are irregular to the tune of R13 630 229.50. Had the Department applied the regulated prices and processes correctly it would have saved R2 231 996.21.

This is what we know of so far. All I know, like many South Africans, I wish our Government could understand that we want them to succeed in building this country. But they need to want the same things as their people, collectively. 

Every single political party seems to be turning the pandemic into a power play, separating the country’s people that much more, through race and fear.  But respect yourself enough to not be led like sheep. Realise there is no, one saviour of South Africa, it is you and me caring enough to do something about injustice. Changing bad habits, not being so sensitive and entitled. 

But most importantly, do not just stand by, with an ever-developing opinion, doing nothing. As that is just as bad as being involved in the act. 

If we demand change, the change will come.


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