Gunned down a year ago — devastated family pay tribute to Babita Deokaran while murder masterminds remain free
It is a chilly night in Mondeor, south of Johannesburg and a large group gathers outside a quaint home, candles in hand, to mourn and reflect on corruption fighter Babita Deokaran’s gruesome death, a year later.
The group gathered to honour Babita Deokaran is comprised of activists from organisations such as the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation, Action for Accountability, and Public Service Accountability Monitor (PSAM) along with her friends and family. As the director of financial accounting, she flagged the siphoning of millions from the public purse at the Gauteng Department of Health, through activities such as Covid-19-related tenders for personal protective equipment.
Deokaran’s sister Sharlene Ramgoolam said that while the nation mourned her as a corruption fighter and a hero, her family mourned the person behind the name, the mother, daughter, sister and aunt. “Babita’s life revolved around her commitment to work, her family, and her only child; they spent every waking moment together,” said Ramgoolam.
Ramgoolam said Deokaran was the person cooking at family gatherings, the one who initiated weekly Zoom meetings for the family during lockdowns, and the nurturer of even strangers. She had seven siblings. Ramgoolam said they “grew up thinking we were invincible because of our bond, but now we see that we are not.”
Ramgoolam encouraged other whistle-blowers to stand strong and remember fighters such as Deokaran who stood for honesty and integrity till the end.
Wayne Duvenage from the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa) spoke at the memorial in the Mondeor Baptist church. “We cannot be sitting here a year later, and nothing has been done about it; where is the real investigation that should have started the moment after Babita’s death? We need the government to investigate suspensions as this is a way to move whistle-blowers out. Since Babitas’s death, we have had several cases where people pulled out because they were afraid to go down the same road as Babita…We can not allow this to happen any more, the lip service is there but not enough is being done,” said Duvenage.
Acting Director-General in the Treasury Ismail Momoniat said it was easier to be a hero during apartheid than it was now, without minimising that experience.
He said he looked at matters in the context of fighting a deeply entrenched system of corruption.
“When we speak of corrupt countries, we think of Pakistan, we talk of Nigeria, but let us be clear, we are probably more corrupt than those countries. We have to look at ourselves… The difference in us is… those who loot and still don’t think they have to stop at 10% or 20%, they want 100%,” said Momoniat.
He attributed widespread corruption to cadre deployment, and that some civil servants were political figures first and servants second.
‘A form of treason’
“We started as a crippled state and we are unable to meet the needs of our people; even in times where there is a crisis, disaster, people were too busy stealing during Covid. It is not just disgraceful, it’s a form of treason,” said Momoniat.
Other speakers echoed their disappointment in how slowly the wheels of justice were turning for Babita Deokaran and other activists under siege, such as those in Abahlali baseMjondolo.
Sekoetlane Phamodi, Country Director for South Africa at the Accountability Lab, said:
“She said ‘not on her watch’ and showed the rest of us we can’t let it be on ours. Our collective outrage at the loss of Babita’s life can be redirected towards real action for accountability and our moment has long been waiting for us. We must and can galvanise for not only the strengthening of whistle-blower protection laws, but the effective implementation to prevent what never should have happened to Babita and many others.” DM/MC