Opinionista Aphiwe Ntlemeza 3 March 2021

The corruption, looting and incompetence related to the Covid-19 response in the Eastern Cape is a disgrace

The Eastern Cape produced unforgettable stalwarts of the anti-apartheid Struggle, but the management of the pandemic under the ruling party which these stalwarts represented has exposed the moral decay that’s prominent within the ANC.

The public healthcare system in the Eastern Cape has been in a dire state for decades, and as some commentators have pointed out, has finally all but collapsed under the strain of Covid-19 infections. Nowhere has the failure of governance been more unambiguous than in the Eastern Cape, where corruption, mismanagement, indifference, and sheer incompetence have ensured that the province has been leading in Covid-19 infections.

On 18 February 2021, Premier Oscar Mabuyane made a long-overdue decision to fire former Eastern Cape health MEC, Sindiswa Gomba. This came after numerous calls, since the start of the pandemic, for the former MEC to step down. Undeniably, these calls fell on deaf ears resulting in an increase in corruption within the health sector, but also unnecessary deaths that could have been avoided.

Although the decision by Mabuyane is welcomed we must criticise the extent and impact of the delay of such a decision. After refusing to resign without a fight, Gomba has since implicated other politicians for misdemeanours, arguing in the Sunday Times of 21 February 2021 that “she was sent by her party” and is displeased that she was alienated.

This is understandable, considering that she was fired for the same incompetence and criminal allegations that the same party usually condones. The Eastern Cape has over the years notoriously earned a reputation for blatant corruption that is not only criminal but disgustingly immoral, illustrating moral decay in the ANC.

The ANC in the EC has been referred to as a “criminal enterprise masquerading as a political party”, which has lost its cause for fighting for the dignity of black people.

The main challenges to leadership in South Africa include a crisis of leadership, where corruption, nepotism, and cadre deployment are hallmarks of South Africa’s political leadership. Systematic State Capture has damaged state institutions and abandoned the once-revered concept of Ubuntu. Corruption is the only sector of the Eastern Cape economy that seems to be booming. Corruption scandals in the Eastern Cape have gone from astonishing to “no longer surprising”.

There was shock and disbelief at leaked invoices from OR Tambo Municipality showing an invoice worth millions for a “door-to-door Covid-19 awareness” campaign at a time when it was illegal to leave one’s home under Level 5 lockdown. This is how things are done in the Eastern Cape.

The province’s leadership also fielded hard questions about a slew of allegations of corruption, ranging from the use of a guest house owned by a politician’s daughter (MEC for Transport, Safety and Liaison, Weziwe Tikana-Gxotiwe) as an isolation facility, to unexplained payments by the OR Tambo district municipality, improper procurement of sanitisers and the infamous “scooter project”.

Corruption and mismanagement are not incidental. They are instead a reflection of how the Eastern Cape has been run since the advent of democracy. Consequently, those working on the frontline of fighting the virus faced challenges of insufficient personal protective equipment (PPE), resulting in frontline workers refusing to work, fearing risk of exposure and vulnerability.

Alleged massive corruption surrounding the purchase and supply of PPE has placed frontline workers and their immediate family at risk, increasing infections and deaths that could have been prevented by the ANC-led government.

Although the Eastern Cape has produced unforgettable stalwarts including Walter Sisulu, Oliver Tambo, Albertina Sisulu, Martin Thembisile Hani, Raymond Mhlaba, Steve Biko and Winnie Madikizela-Mandela to name a few, the management of the pandemic under the ruling party which these stalwarts represented exposed the moral decay that’s prominent within the ANC. The question remains, how is it possible that a province that has produced such astute leaders still faces challenges of deeply ingrained poverty and inequality?

As we approach the 2021 local government elections, one cannot miss the opportunity to reflect on the governance of the ANC during the pandemic. South Africans have been ruled by unethical leaders for decades. The most vulnerable of our people have endured oppressive policies and leaders who steal from the public and the ruling party seems to have normalised corruption. For them, it is primarily “politics of the stomach” and enrichment of family, and friends. Honesty and integrity are very distant from their minds.

We must professionalise the public sector — a point made by President Cyril Ramaphosa, current president of the ANC, during his 2021 SONA speech. Appointments should be based on merit, competence, and a commitment to ethical service.

Having noted the distrust between government and its citizens, more specifically in the Eastern Cape, there are still concerns as to whether the ANC-led provincial department will effectively roll out and convince citizens of the better-good of vaccines. Politics have proven to play a pivotal role in how the public buys into the Covid-19 vaccine; however, denialism seems to be consistent with the ruling party, from corruption to Thabo Mbeki’s Aids denialism and most recently, the gender-based violence epidemic.

It is ironic how President Ramaphosa’s administration (the “New Dawn”) is “seen” as fighting corruption when in fact the same administration has been implicated in bigger atrocities, showing that the issue is the ANC. Those who call for the province to be placed under administration ignore the power of political patronage. The Eastern Cape ANC was a crucial voting bloc supporting his presidential ambitions, so it’s unlikely that Ramaphosa will pull the plug on the cesspool of incompetence and corruption.

There is a sense of entitlement from the ANC which dehumanises the same blacks it was established to liberate. Unfortunately, those who have grown frustrated either will leave or the ANC must face the real prospect of electoral defeat before any meaningful action is taken. Notably, the decline in quality healthcare has caused the public to lose trust in the healthcare system in South Africa.

Although inadequate leadership and excessive bigotry have played a role in these shortcomings, other factors such as the unequal distribution of resources, increased disease burden, political interference, dilapidated hospital buildings, outdated infrastructure and issues of hospitals being under-staffed have further crippled the health sector.

In early January, Health Minister Zweli Mkhize promised that the vaccine purchases would be free from the gross corruption we have come to associate with government procurement and the ANC. The public has a right to be informed, for example, of the steps taken to roll out a vaccine, the widespread distribution of which is critical to any viable recovery of the economy and the prevention of unnecessary deaths.

An accountable government does not only employ media set pieces; it allows the public through the media, to ask a host of questions on issues that affect their lives. Effectively, commentators have suggested that rolling out of a Covid-19 vaccine in the Eastern Cape will require the province to up its game like never before and start thinking “out the box”. As debates around the procurement of vaccines — and how they will be transported, stored, and distributed — continue, there is enormous rage resulting from distrust between the ANC and its citizens that is impacting hugely on the vaccine communication roll-out strategy. Undeniably, the scepticism and daily doses of misinformation are entrenched within “ANC factions among the central organising fault lines in the Covid-19 misinformation maelstrom” argues Dennis Webster.

Having noted the distrust between government and its citizens, more specifically in the Eastern Cape, there are still concerns as to whether the ANC-led provincial department will effectively roll out and convince citizens of the better-good of vaccines. Politics have proven to play a pivotal role in how the public buys into the Covid-19 vaccine; however, denialism seems to be consistent with the ruling party, from corruption to Thabo Mbeki’s Aids denialism and most recently, the gender-based violence epidemic.

While many called for the easing of lockdown regulations, millions of financially strapped citizens across the country continued to struggle with access to food relief. Although various systems had been put in place to ensure fair distribution to qualifying households, there have been several controversies around food parcel distribution including the politicisation of food, favouritism, and mismanagement of food parcels by councillors at a municipal level. Only the lowest of the low steal from the sick, destitute, and the dying. They are a disgrace to humanity.

How can South Africa recover from the crisis? Despite signs that the current wave of the Covid-19 pandemic may be stabilising or past the peak in the Eastern Cape and some parts of the country, the ANC faces a crisis of confidence, credibility, and legitimacy, in light of reports of widespread pillage. There has been a state of panic and unpreparedness in the Eastern Cape over Covid-19 infections in the province. This has manifested itself through poor planning, indecisive ANC leadership, and a failure to be proactive in the quarantine process to combat further local infections. The ruling party has become anti-poor.

The current looting raises questions about the ANC’s present, past and future. The way many people relate to the current looting depends to some extent on how they view the ANC, what it has meant to them in the past and what they hope for or expect to happen in the future. DM

Information pertaining to Covid-19, vaccines, how to control the spread of the virus and potential treatments is ever-changing. Under the South African Disaster Management Act Regulation 11(5)(c) it is prohibited to publish information through any medium with the intention to deceive people on government measures to address Covid-19. We are therefore disabling the comment section on this article in order to protect both the commenting member and ourselves from potential liability. Should you have additional information that you think we should know, please email [email protected].

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