South Africa

OBITUARY

Auditor-General Kimi Makwetu was committed to serving South Africa

Auditor-General Kimi Makwetu was committed to serving South Africa
The late Auditor-General Kimi Makwetu. (Photo: GCIS/ Elmond Jiyane)

Auditor-General Kimi Makwetu died of stage four lung cancer on Wednesday afternoon in his final days at the helm of this Chapter 9 institution.

“It is with great sadness and shock that we announce the passing of Auditor-General Kimi Makwetu this afternoon. Mr Makwetu passed away in hospital. He was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer in June 2018,” confirmed a statement from the spokesperson for the Office of the Auditor-General, Africa Boso.

“As the national audit office, we join the Makwetu family in mourning his death. We ask the public to keep the family in their thoughts as they come to terms with his passing, and to give them the privacy and space to deal with his passing.”

Makwetu was getting ready to leave office at the end of November at the expiry of his seven-year non-renewable term at the helm of the Office of the Auditor-General, one of the institutions to support democracy established in Chapter 9 of the Constitution.

It’s understood he was looking forward to being a husband and father to three children after an extremely busy, and stressful, stint as Auditor-General (AG). Future plans would also have included his recent appointment to the United Nations Independent Audit Advisory Committee. 

A quietly spoken, private person, Makwetu’s official biography on the Auditor-General’s website runs a mere 160 words. It details how after receiving a social sciences degree from the University of Cape Town in 1989, he obtained a BCompt Honours degree. As a qualified chartered accountant, who completed articles at Deloitte, he began his career with Standard Bank and later worked at Nampak, Liberty and Metropolitan Life, before returning to Deloitte as director of its forensic unit. He was appointed as Deputy Auditor-General from 1 August 2007. 

“Being part of the AG will enable me to contribute meaningfully to my country’s development. As a committed South African, I don’t want to be on the touchline while the history of my country is being developed and rewritten, I want to be part of the team. This position will enable me to be on the field as a player,” he said in a May 2007 official statement announcing the appointment, issued by then AG Terence Nombembe.

What does not emerge in that official biography is that Makwetu, 54, grew up in Gugulethu, Cape Town, where the family remains known to this day, while the traditional home is Cofimvaba, where he and his family had been expected in December.

In a recent interview with Business Day, he recounted the impact of his mother Maureen Makwetu, who “knew how to manage money” in her meat distribution business.

“I was exposed to ways of checking how and whether the money was complete or not,” he said, recollecting how she had carried pen and notebook. “I realised that in order for you to keep track of things, you must write them down.”

His mother, and father Vela Makwetu, had died by the time he became South Africa’s Auditor-General. That appointment was made from 1 December 2013, in a continuation of the tradition of the deputy taking over the helm, as had happened since the beginning of the reconfigured AG’s office in democratic South Africa under Shauket Fakie in 1999. 

Crucially under Makwetu’s term, the AG’s office continued to recruit, train and mentor young and particularly black graduates. The youthful professionalism of the AG’s office is traditionally on display during Parliament’s high-pressure annual report briefing sessions. 

ANC parliamentarian Yunus Carrim, who has interacted with Makwetu over many years, expressed his deepest condolences.

He has been consistent, persistent, excellent, and, in a sense, world class. In recent years the auditors we have dealt with are young, impressive and demographically representative, shattering certain racial stereotypes,” said Carrim, adding bluntly:

“The government and Parliament let him and his office down by not acting on their recommendations, and with the new powers granted to the AG’s office, hopefully there’ll be progress.”

Those new powers to give teeth to the AG to issue personal cost orders against top officials who fail to remedy identified audit shortcomings have been phased in over the past year.

The ANC described Makwetu’s death as a huge loss, conveying its condolences to his family.

“Makwetu served his profession and the people of South Africa with distinction and dignity.”

DA MP Jan de Villiers sent condolences to the family.

“The DA salutes Makewtu’s service to his country and trust that his legacy will have a lasting impression on all public servants…”

IFP MP Mkhuleko Hlengwa, chairperson of Parliament’s watchdog on public spending, the Standing Committee on Public Accounts (Scopa), expressed his shock and condolences.

“In Parliament’s political environment he’s had the ability to take everyone along with him,” said Hlengwa. “He never played to the gallery. He’s given us facts… He sought to liberate us from our own ignorance and to leave us in a better, empowered position.” 

Over the past seven years, Makwetu increasingly vigorously voiced concern over the persistently dire and deteriorating state of departmental and municipal audits. Central would have been a measure of frustration that recommendations, cautions and reminders of good accounting practices and transparency seemed to be ignored.

That approach also translated into empowering his team at the AG’s office, a real-life example of what Hlengwa dubbed #TeamWork. “The ability to trust his team and delegation is a testament to his integrity.”

None of which is to say that it’s been easy. 

As AG during the State Capture years, Makwetu was confronted with threats and intimidation to his audit staff as they travelled to provinces and municipalities to check not only on the paperwork, but also whether the money on paper actually resulted in, for example, water pipes or houses.

Makwetu told MPs about this in November 2017, diplomatically in that quiet way, describing it as extreme pushback. “There’s no environment that we audit that can be regarded as immune from the political environment,” he said, adding, “No, it’s definitely not okay to intimidate.”

The AG stood by his staff, liaising with top police officers. Exactly how successful that was remains unknown. It wasn’t talked about, although the refrain of intimidation and threats continued.

Over the past seven years, Makwetu increasingly vigorously voiced concern over the persistently dire and deteriorating state of departmental and municipal audits. Central would have been a measure of frustration that recommendations, cautions and reminders of good accounting practices and transparency seemed to be ignored.

Political leadership, top management accountability and transparency, compliance with legislation and regulation and, crucially, of consequences for violating procurement were repeatedly identified as central to good financial performance. 

Sadly, year after year the national, provincial and municipal audits presented a state of financial affairs that was not improving, despite the AG traditionally briefing the Cabinet on the audit outcomes.

Over the past few months, the AG took on a real-time audit as the Covid-19 tender corruption scandal triggered a public outcry. His first report in early September highlighted widespread control failures in the procurement of personal protective equipment and other measures. 

In his straightforward manner, no words were minced.

The lack of validation, integration and sharing of data across government platforms resulted in people — including government officials — receiving benefits and grants they were not entitled to. Some applicants could have been unfairly rejected as a result of outdated information on which assessment for eligibility was based,” Makwetu said in the official statement.

As the news of Makwetu’s death emerged on Wednesday afternoon, condolences exploded on social media from all quarters in an indication of the reach and respect the AG enjoyed.

Tributes to his integrity, ethics and hard work flowed as Makwetu was repeatedly honoured as a public servant committed to serving South Africa.

In Wednesday’s address to the nation, President Cyril Ramaphosa paid tribute to Makwetu, saying he “served this country with dedication, with distinction and with great dedication”. DM

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  • M D Fraser says:

    We have indeed lost one of the ‘few honest men’ in our country’s management team. He would have been gone at the end of November anyway, but this is really sad, he deserved so much better and so did his family.
    Sincere condolences to his family and friends. His will be big shoes to fill.

  • runa prinsloo says:

    Condolences to the family and his co-workers. A real loss to SA. May his legacy live on.

    In line with celebrating great lives, I either missed it in the media or it was not reported that Herbert Kretzner, a show business journalist and the lyricist (English) of Les Misrables died on 14 October 2020. He was born in Kroonstad, South Africa and studied at Rhodes University. His career started as a writer of newsreel commentaries and documentary films for African Film Productions in Johannesburg. He used to say, “Old songwriters don’t die, they just decompose.” With about 7000 performances (on Broadway) and still counting, may his legacy live on off-stage too.

    How apt is this preface to the novel, written in 1862, still today?

    “So long as there shall exist, by reason of law and custom, a social condemnation, which, in the face of civilization, artificially creates hells on earth, and complicates a destiny that is divine with human fatality; so long as the three problems of the age—the degradation of man by poverty, the ruin of women by starvation, and the dwarfing of childhood by physical and spiritual night—are not solved; so long as, in certain regions, social asphyxia shall be possible; in other words, and from a yet more extended point of view, so long as ignorance and misery remain on earth, books like this cannot be useless.”

    Neither are the lives of men such as Kimi Makwetu and Herbert Kretzner.

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