SIU confirms Babita Deokaran, mowed down after dropping child at school, was a witness in the R332m PPE scandal
WhatsApp messages reveal that slain senior Gauteng health department official Babita Deokaran faced intimidation and bogus misconduct charges as she tried to raise the alarm in the department.
Minutes after dropping off her child at school on Monday, 23 August, 53-year-old Deokaran was shot outside her home in Johannesburg South in what police have told Daily Maverick is likely to have been a hit. She died in hospital hours later.
Special Investigating Unit spokesperson Kaizer Kganyago confirmed that she had been a witness in the investigation into the R332-million corrupt PPE deals in the department. Kganyago said it was too early to make a connection between her testimony and her death by shooting.
“Babita Deokaran has been involved in many investigations and she has been assisting long before the PPE cases. We protect our witnesses (which is why) nobody has known she was a witness.”
Asked why she did not have formal witness protection, he said: “There was never an indication of a threat (she alerted us to).” He said the SIU had many thousands of witnesses and it put witnesses into protection programmes when they alerted the SIU to a threat.
Deokaran worked in the department for 30 years after joining as an accounting clerk. Her Facebook posts show she loved her work and her colleagues.
“The Gauteng Department of Health is at a loss for words at this brutal and tragic passing. Ms. Babita Deokaran was an invaluable member of the Gauteng Health team; she rose up the ranks in the public service in the last three decades, after she joined as an accounting clerk,” said Gauteng health MEC Nomathemba Mokgethi.
Messages Deokaran sent to the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation and obtained by Daily Maverick reveal that she and others were sidelined and faced trumped-up misconduct charges when they tried to blow the whistle on corruption in the department. In July 2020, these charges were withdrawn after the PPE scandal was revealed and after former health MEC Bandile Masuku quit. She was demoted to the Johannesburg District Office.
“We are four senior managers in Finance/SCM (supply chain management) at the (Health) head office. They suspended the 2 SCM Directors and I. They made the life of the payments director a living hell; she resigned.
“Once all the PPE orders etc, were done and some payments made, they dropped all charges against the 2 SCM directors (one of which was Deokaran). They offered the payments Director to come back on a one-year contract and moved me to Jhb (Johannesburg) health district.
“My assessment of the situation is that they wanted us out of the way because if these are real charges, why are they not pursuing them. I also see they do not want me back at the Province as they see me as an obstacle in payments they want to make to certain companies,” Deokaran wrote to Shan Bolton, director of the foundation.
“Every few years, we have a different team of people who come in and loot, and the funds seem to be a bottomless pit,” wrote Deokaran. The Gauteng health department has lurched from crisis to crisis as each different health administrator has overseen regimes in which billions of rands were stolen or mismanaged.
Deokaran posed a final question to Bolton: “My biggest issue, though, is the Provincial Treasury. How do all these things happen under their watch and this is not the first instance. It’s as if they are a silent partner and will start acting when the damage is done. With all that has happened at Gauteng Health, it is no wonder we are forever struggling to pay our suppliers, etc.”
The messages clarify the role Deokaran played in exposing the rot she witnessed. Pressure is mounting on the department and on the contractors who benefited from the PPE contracts, with the SIU hot on the heels of Ledla Structural Development which won R139-million in contracts and then subcontracted supplies. The SIU is trying to reclaim the money from various companies. Beadica 430 also won mask-supply contracts worth R68.5-million, which the SIU has also found were irregularly awarded. Gauteng health department officials like Thandiwe Lorraine Pino insist that Gauteng Premier David Makhura should bear some responsibility for the PPE scandal.
Deokaran was a popular official whom several staff members said had given them their first breaks. “Most youngsters in the province got their first break because of her; she believed in youngsters. I’m her product, rest well my Boss/Leader, mother. SAD day in the office,” said a young official on Twitter. She was a family person whose Facebook page is dotted with birthday messages to friends and family and Diwali greetings. In between these messages she posted profiles of the Springboks and the #I’mStaying movement of people who love South Africa and use the Facebook page to state why they won’t leave. Her final message to Bolton was: “I just want to tell you that not all of us in Health are corrupt. Some of us are trying but you see how they are dealing with us.” DM
This is a developing story and we will be publishing further follow-ups as information becomes available.
"Information pertaining to Covid-19, vaccines, how to control the spread of the virus and potential treatments is ever-changing. Under the South African Disaster Management Act Regulation 11(5)(c) it is prohibited to publish information through any medium with the intention to deceive people on government measures to address COVID-19. We are therefore disabling the comment section on this article in order to protect both the commenting member and ourselves from potential liability. Should you have additional information that you think we should know, please email [email protected]"