AGE OF THE ASSASSIN
Whistle-blower Babita Deokaran’s family still seek justice a year after her murder
It’s been a year since Gauteng health department official Babita Deokaran was gunned down outside her Johannesburg home. Her family and the State believe she was silenced for blowing the whistle on corruption within the department.
A year after Babita Deokaran’s assassination, her family is no closer to seeing her killers brought to justice.
“It’s been very tough on the entire family… not a day goes by without us thinking about her and being overcome with grief. It’s hard and painful as though it happened yesterday, and all of us relive that dreadful day every day,” said Tony Haripersad, the family’s spokesperson and Deokaran’s brother-in-law.
In December 2021, BluePrint for Free Speech gave Deokaran a posthumous award for her work in uncovering massive corruption in the Gauteng health department. She was one of four South African whistle-blowers to be recognised.
Deokaran, 53, was shot multiple times on 23 August 2021 outside her home in Winchester Hills, Johannesburg, as she returned home from dropping off her daughter at school. Her bullet-riddled car bore all the hallmarks of an orchestrated hit. She died at the scene.
At the time of her death, Deokaran was a key witness in a Special Investigating Unit probe into a R332-million personal protection equipment (PPE) scandal at the Gauteng Health Department. The State maintains that Deokaran was killed to avoid her testifying.
Three days after the murder, Phakamani Hadebe, Zitha Radebe, Phinda Ndlovu, Sanele Mbhele, Siphiwe Mazibuko and Siphakanyiswa Dladla — all alleged hitmen from KwaZulu-Natal — were arrested.
They are facing charges of murder, attempted murder and the illegal possession of firearms and ammunition. The count of attempted murder relates to a person who was in Deokoran’s car at the time of the shooting.
During their bail application, the State said the six had conspired to murder Deokaran. The hitmen were allegedly each paid R400,000. Those who masterminded the assassination have not been apprehended.
During bail proceedings in November 2021, Phakamani Hadebe retracted a claim he made in his confession that former health minister Zweli Mkhize had ordered the hit on Deokaran. The admissibility of Hadebe’s confession will be dealt with in a trial within a trial.
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Magistrate Simon Sibanyoni denied bail to the six accused in the Johannesburg Regional Court on 20 December 2021.
The accused last appeared in court in July for pre-trial purposes. At that point, the State handed a 1,600-page docket to the defence. Lawyers for the accused said they needed time to consult with their clients and study the voluminous document.
The matter is back in the Gauteng High Court on Wednesday, 24 August.
“We have faith in our justice system and pray that justice will prevail. We hope the mastermind can be identified and brought to book and that corruption be rooted out from our government,” said Haripersad.
To keep Deokaran’s memory alive, her family said they had decided to join forces with civil society organisations involved in the fight against corruption and the struggle to have protection for whistle-blowers in South Africa. These include the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation, the Defend Our Democracy campaign, Active Citizens Movement, Action for Accountability and the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse.
The Ahmed Kathrada Foundation is hosting a memorial rally for Deokaran on Tuesday, 23 August at 6pm at the Mondeor Baptist Church in south Johannesburg. DM