There has been a lot of moaning on the social media streets about how the law enforcement authorities are not nabbing the biggest fish in the State Capture saga. It is these main culprits everyone is eager to see in orange overalls.
When South Africa’s State Capture story is told in years to come, we can guess who the main players will be — the villains, the heroes, the whistle-blowers, the collapsing state-owned enterprises, crashing airlines and so on.
What will be less prominent, and perhaps even forgotten, will be the arrests (or not) of the so-called smaller fry who have between them stolen billions, often money meant for orphanages, crèches, school feeding schemes, anti-poverty projects, new clinics, libraries, school toilets — literally projects that save lives.
There is a risk that many smaller fish will be left to continue swimming, never to feel the fisherman’s net, never to face the consequences of their criminal acts.
It is vital that we catch each and every single crook. Because otherwise they will not stop, those at their mercy will continue to suffer and die and scarce resources will continue to drip away; meanwhile others will watch how the corrupt are reaping profits and driving fancy cars with impunity and decide to follow suit. It is pivotal that we send a message that crime is crime, no matter how “small” the money, that it is unacceptable and that the system will come for you.
If I could dream for a moment, and without mentioning names, how wonderful would it be if the crooks linked to a few projects I have reported on were put in orange overalls and the keys to their cells thrown in the deepest ditch.
There is a former paramedic, let’s call him Mr EMS, who landed lucrative tenders to offer ambulance services in several provinces, his most fertile hunting ground being the Free State. Here, several “fixers” in the employ of the state (we know their names) smoothed his path, processed his inflated invoices and turned a blind eye to the fact that he was mostly unable to deliver ambulance services.
Who paid the price? Mostly the poor, who would wait in vain for an ambulance to arrive in far-flung villages. Often when they did eventually arrive, there would be no competent paramedic to stabilise the patient, or the ambulance was being used like a minibus taxi, with patients packed in like sardines even if they had painful fractures or were in the middle of labour. I cannot wait to see Mr EMS in an orange overall.
There is a wonderful woman in a province in our far north who has for years cared for children, most of them orphaned by Aids. It may be odd that I do not name her or even the province where she lives. This is because petty politicians are known to simply cut, or threaten to cut, life-saving state grants for those who dare to ask where the social workers, the teachers or the health services are that these beautiful children need.
We know that in this province there has been money for tenders for aeromedical services where the helicopters never take flight, and to pay for lawyers to close successful community projects distributing antiretrovirals to thousands of people.
This woman manages to offer children love, food and a warm bed, with only derisory financial help from the government. Imagine if we could have channelled some of that looted VBS Mutual Bank money to this woman, how many wonderfully productive citizens we would have shaped and nurtured?
Allow me one last dream. The beautiful province of the Eastern Cape should be in the headlines for its resilient people, breathtaking natural resources and incredible potential. Instead, we know it as an epicentre of incompetence, looting, fraud and corruption, where a child is born with cerebral palsy because no ambulance arrives to help a mother in labour. We have seen babies die because the hospital’s oxygen has run out. We see towns such as Butterworth without water.
So when the Hawks arrest a woman in Mthatha for allegedly fraudulently claiming millions for door-to-door Covid-19 outreach, I celebrate. I don’t moan that she is a so-called small fish. Because I understand that maybe, just maybe, the next crook will think twice before inflating a tender, fiddling with an invoice or lying about the work they did.
I also understand that with each arrest the hope grows that in future an ambulance will arrive on time, a safe school toilet will be built or a child will get a desperately needed plate of food for the day.
One can dream, right? DM168
Anso Thom is managing editor of Maverick Citizen.