DM168

WHISTLE-BLOWER OF THE YEAR

Winner: Gauteng Department of Health’s Babita Deokaran

Babita Deokaran. Image composite: Maverick Life.

Acting chief financial officer at the Gauteng Department of Health Babita Deokaran paid with her life for taking a stand against corruption.

Four South Africans are on this year’s international Blueprint for Free Speech awards, which recognise whistle-blowers’ courage to speak out and to expose injustice and wrongdoing. One of them is Babita Deokaran.

The UK-based charity works to uphold Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which asserts the right to freedom of opinion and expression for all people. Blueprint’s recognition of Deokaran’s contribution to exposing deep rot and corruption in the Gauteng Department of Health is the latest salute to the 53-year-old whose assassination on 23 August made her a household name. It also shook up the country to understand how corruption has become a cancer and thrives through a malignant web of people who willingly and knowingly play their role in order for looting and even killing to continue – so long as kickbacks keep coming.   

Deokaran was acting chief financial officer at the Gauteng Department of Health. She was also a key witness in an ongoing Special Investigating Unit (SIU) probe into the alleged corrupted procurement tenders of personal protective equipment (PPE) in the department, the province and throughout SA.

Deokaran had worked for the department for 15 years. Her colleagues said after her murder that she not only had the inside track on how dodgy deals are pushed through the various layers of administration by having people who are “cut in” to circumvent expected checks and balances, but that Deokaran, who had oversight powers and access to all financials, was also able to plot the money and paper trail that was on track to implicate the most senior officials and political appointees in the department.

The Gauteng provincial government is believed to have spent about R3-billion on PPE expenditure. Over the past months the SIU has found that government paid grossly inflated prices without question or justification; it also procured PPE that was substandard and therefore potentially unsafe and that some vendors who landed tenders had no history of being able to supply PPE – some didn’t even have business profiles or listings.

The damning findings of the SIU and media investigations have so far shown that even in a time of pandemic – one of the darkest moments for all humanity – there has been no pause in the pillaging of public money.

Days after Deokaran’s murder, six men were arrested for her killing. The six accused were back in the Johannesburg Magistrates’ Court on 9 December.

Deokaran’s killing stands also as a plangent call for the government to stop its lip service, and to make adequate provision to ensure better protection for whistle-blowers and their families, including ensuring that they are not compromised in being able to continue working and earning livelihoods.

Deokaran’s friends and family have set up the Babita Deokaran Memorial Page on Facebook. There are pinned letters of condolence from Parliament, ministers, and numerous foundations. There are also posts of those who miss her as a “sweet, amazing friend”; “a South African hero”; “the pillar of the family”. And on 30 November there were posts for a birthday Deokaran did not get to celebrate. Her heartbroken family member Renu Williams posted: “You are celebrating with angels today and it is something we will never come to terms with.” DM168

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DAILY MAVERICK PERSONS OF THE YEAR

Every year, Daily Maverick puts its mind to the question of who we should recognise in our annual Persons of the Year categories.

In the past, these decisions have been made after a bare-knuckle editorial brawl, but this year, we decided to do things a little differently. We had the bare-knuckle editorial brawl, but simply to arrive at a shortlist of nominees in each category. Using a new reader engagement tool called Hearken, we asked our online readers to cast their votes on who they think deserves the final nod. We also gave readers the option to choose their own candidate in any category in case they thought we had neglected anyone more worthy. The results were both expected and surprising.

On the whole, readers agreed with our shortlisted candidates, with a few exceptions. We had not considered Greta Thunberg as a candidate for International Person of the Year, but so many readers nominated her that she earned enough mentions to be a runner-up in that category.

Many objected to us only focusing on singers for our Artist of the Year and objected to the predominance of foreign singers in the category. Quite a few readers were critical of us leaving out African women and female contenders in general.

The journalists at Daily Maverick were mentioned several times as nominees for different categories of People of the Year – ah, thanks for the love, guys, but this time around we wanted to cast our net outside our inner circle.

The more than 800 readers who voted totally exceeded our expectations, because this was the first time we have opened People of the Year to readers’ votes.

Below are the categories. Read about the winners and runners-up in various categories below.

  • South African Person of the Year – a person who has had the broadest or most significant impact on the country as a whole.
  • Africa Person of the Year – a person who has made an outstanding contribution on the African continent this year.
  • International Person of the Year – a person who has had broad international impact or made an outstanding contribution this year.
  • South African Villain of the Year – there was no shortage of suggestions in this self-explanatory category…
  • International Villain of the Year – as above, but drawn from foreign fields.
  • South African Businessperson of the Year – not necessarily the person who made the biggest profit, but someone whose influence went beyond the balance sheets.
  • Community Champion of the Year – someone uplifting, defending and representing ordinary South Africans, often against all odds.
  • South African Polluter of the Year – individuals and entities which have succeeded in further dirtying our environment this year.
  • Our Burning Planet Heroes of the Year – the green warriors fighting for our planet’s survival.
  • South African Youth Champion of the Year – young people working to improve the lot of other young people.
  • Sportsperson of the Year – a sportsperson whose positive impact has been felt either on or off the field.
  • Sports Team of the Year – a team that has stood out from the rest in 2021 either on or off the field.
  • Artist of the Year – a hitmaker whose musical or social influence has towered above others.
  • Moegoe of the Year – someone whose behaviour perhaps falls short of Villain of the Year, but who has in some way acted idiotically.
  • Grinch of the Year – someone who qualifies as a spoilsport or killjoy. – Rebecca Davis/DM168

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper which is available for R25 at Pick n Pay, Exclusive Books and airport bookstores. For your nearest stockist, please click here.

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  • With all the evidence provided by this very brave lady, Babita Deokaran, and all the evidence unearthed by the SIU and not one success in prosecuting anyone. Do we accept that the entire investigating and prosecuting process in this country is so totally useless and dysfunctional that there has not been one single success. I doubt that even this country could be that bad. Cyril Ramaphosa, as a citizen of this country I’ll put it to you that you are either the direct cause of all of this incapacity or are facilitating this failure in a big way. Please show some courage or get out of office.

  • Category I wish we didnt need. In depth article in todays edition of THE TIMES (London) on RSA whistleblowers. The lack of support for the likes of Ms Deokaran and Atholl Williams has put South Africa Govt in a shocking light. Do they (Gov) even care?

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