AGE OF THE ASSASSIN
Babita Deokaran killing: renewed calls made to track down the murder masterminds
Conviction of six men for murdering a whistle-blower only raises further questions about shadowy figures behind the scandal and the assassination
Two years have passed since the death of Gauteng official and whistle-blower Babita Deokaran, who met her fate at the hands of an assassin just outside her home. Her “crime”: exposing suspicious payments amounting to nearly R1-billion in the corridors of Tembisa Hospital.
Despite the recent sentencing of six people linked to her murder, for jail terms ranging from six to 22 years, the court and the public are still grappling with many unanswered questions about the masterminds behind her murder.
“Babita Deokaran held multifaceted roles – a woman, mother, sister, friend, proud South African and the chief director of the Gauteng Department of Health’s financial accounting division,” read a family tribute at a poignant commemoration on the second anniversary of her death held at Christ the King Church in Mondeor, Johannesburg, on Wednesday, 23 August.
It added: “Her unwavering commitment to truth over power proved to be her ultimate undoing. As the six men convicted of her assassination face the consequences, a shadow of doubt looms over whether they are mere pawns masking more influential figures entwined in the personal protective equipment (PPE) scandal she bravely exposed at Tembisa Hospital. In this climate, it becomes imperative that, much like Babita, we all raise uncomfortable questions to ensure justice prevails.”
The gathering drew a diverse crowd, including family, friends, civil society representatives and Gauteng government officials. Among those in attendance were Gauteng MEC of Health Nomantu Nkomo-Ralehoko, the head of the Special Investigating Unit Andy Mothibi, renowned SAA whistle-blower Cynthia Stimpel, and anti-apartheid activist Reverend Frank Chikane, who is co-founder of the anti-corruption group Defend Our Democracy.
The memorial was held just a day after the six men accused of murdering Deokaran pleaded guilty in the Johannesburg High Court, after an agreement before the trial between the State and defence lawyers on pleas and sentencing.
The plea and sentence agreement, under section 105A(1) of the Criminal Procedure Act 51 of 1977, resulted in sentences ranging from six to 22 years of imprisonment.
Killing was meticulously planned
In sworn affidavits, the men disclosed that the assassination had been meticulously planned – with instructions emanating from shadowy figures who have been identified only as “Khanyisani Mpungose” and “Siphiwe Jobe Sithole”.
The convictions of the men, Phakamani Vincent Hadebe, Nhlangane Phinda Ndlovu, Sanele Mbhele, Siphakanyiswa Dladla, Zitha Radebe and Siphiwe Thabane Mazibuko, were something of a testament to the progress made on the case by the Special Investigating Unit (SIU).
The SIU investigation, authorised by President Cyril Ramaphosa, into irregular tenders worth R1-billion at Tembisa Hospital, as originally brought to light by Deokaran, has had some tangible results. Notably, the Gauteng Department of Health has suspended six of nine implicated officials, initiating disciplinary proceedings overseen by Premier Panyaza Lesufi’s office.
The suspended officials, Duduzile Nobugwana, LH Mojela, Vuyani Chako, MA Maphumulo, NL Kobe and DE Monnakgotla, are entangled in a web of accountability. The other three implicated officials are Puleng Mtuze, Vuyikazi Mtwezi and a Dr Radulescu, prompting a comprehensive assessment of their roles within the institution. A number of the officials have retired or resigned since the SIU report was released.
However, little to no action has been taken against companies that have been linked to the corrupt tenders.
Recently, an investigation by Tebogo Tshwane for the amaBhungane Centre for Investigative Journalism revealed that Johannesburg businessman Paul Mojalefa Mokoena, whose companies were flagged as possible beneficiaries of irregular contracts at Tembisa Hospital, appears to have been engaged in similar suspicious activity at another Gauteng health facility.
Gauteng Health MEC Nkomo-Ralehoko has made a commitment to restoring integrity at the province’s Department of Health and ensuring that justice is served.
“I am picking up where Babita left [off] because that department must be cleaned … Although I did not have the opportunity to meet her in person, her amazing legacy and contribution continue to resonate in the corridors of the Gauteng Department of Health where she once served as an exceptional employee,” said Nkomo-Ralehoko.
“The recent sentencing of six individuals who admitted to her murder marks an important moment and the beginning of the pursuit of justice.”
Orchestrators operate in the shadows
Nkomo-Ralehoko added: “Our pursuit of justice transcends the immediate perpetrators. While the conviction of these six individuals represents a step towards closure for Babita’s loved ones, we acknowledge that the seeds of such criminal activities often extend deeper, involving orchestrators who operate in the shadows.”
The MEC vowed to block official avenues exploited by criminals, stating: “I regularly visit Tembisa Provincial Hospital to fortify its defences against potential criminal interference. My mission is to leave no space for nefarious activities.
“The companies also implicated are going to be dealt with.
“We have picked up some of them and they are no longer getting work and we have forwarded them to the provincial treasury. They are going to bring back the money and will be blacklisted, so they can be out of the system completely.”
Although Deokaran’s family found some solace in this week’s convictions, they are aggrieved that the mastermind behind the assassination remains at large.
Tony Haripersad, the family spokesperson, emphasised that true closure to grief could only be achieved when the orchestrator was held accountable.
“We will only be able to move on and be at peace when the mastermind is brought to book,” he said.
At the commemoration, SAA whistle-blower Stimpel pointed out the inadequacies of current whistle-blowing legislation and highlighted the urgent need for comprehensive reform.
Stimpel stressed that legislation should encompass crucial aspects such as defining whistle-blowers, detrimental actions, disclosures, sanctions, family protection, compensation and expanding the array of institutions where whistle-blowing can be pursued.
“As South Africa grapples with this intricate web of corruption, cover-ups, and convictions, the memory of Babita Deokaran serves as a poignant reminder that upholding truth and justice is a collective duty that demands vigilance and an unwavering commitment to transparency,” she concluded. DM
This article first appeared in our Daily Maverick weekly newspaper, DM168, which is available countrywide for R29.