Covid-19 Roundup | Corruption and an IMF loan

South Africa is about to reach half a million Covid infections amid allegations of government graft. Meanwhile, the International Monetary Fund has granted a multi-billion rand loan.

Dodgy PPE deals

Corruption in the supply chain of medical goods deprives patients of the opportunity to receive proper medical care, said the chairperson of the South African Medical Association (Sama), Angelique Coetzee.

Insufficient political will to deal with corruption has led to a scarcity of proper equipment in public hospitals and the procurement of inadequate and expensive alternatives, such as the medical scooters in the Eastern Cape, Coetzee added.

“The billions of rands which have allegedly been siphoned off of legitimate channels has the effect that doctors and other healthcare workers are treating patients without proper personal protective equipment, are having to work without proper equipment to diagnose patients, and the patients themselves have to suffer more in pitiful wards of dysfunctional hospitals.”

Coetzee urged healthcare workers to report corruption and any instances where insufficient equipment has meant they could not do their jobs properly.

A week ago, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced he would make a proclamation for the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) to look into corruption during Covid-19. 

Since then, a number of well-connected politicians have landed in the spotlight for alleged cronyism and nepotism in the awarding of personal protective equipment (PPE) supply contracts. 

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Ramaphosa’s spokesperson, Khusela Diko, took a leave of absence after it emerged that her husband’s company, Royal Bhaca Projects, secured a PPE contract from the provincial health department, which was later cancelled. Her family’s close-knit relationship with provincial health MEC Bandile Masuku also raised suspicions. Masuku has denied any involvement in procurement processes. 

On 30 July, the ANC provincial executive committee said Masuku and his wife, City of Johannesburg mayoral committee member Loyiso Diko, must take a leave of absence with immediate effect. They will also be subjected to an investigation by the ANC Gauteng integrity committee.

According to the Department of Health, just over 160 companies received tenders for services related to Covid-19, with R159 million apparently the highest amount awarded. 

The Dikos have denied any wrongdoing, citing an error in judgement. They claim no funds were paid to the company. 

Basic income grant 

The Pietermaritzburg Economic Justice and Dignity Group this week called for the government to support the introduction of a basic income grant for workers who are struggling.

The organisation released its household affordability index findings compiled by canvassing women living on low incomes in Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu-Natal.  

“Our economic situation has deteriorated. Unemployment and job losses are spiralling. Poverty and inequality are becoming entrenched. We now must find new ways to reconfigure the economy post-Covid. Implementing some type of basic income grant now can provide us with an instrument to reshape our economic trajectory.”  

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According to the research, a black woman worker supports 3.9 people on average. “How far does R1 884.34 go in a family of four members? This remaining money dispersed in a family (at R471 per capita) does not even meet Statistics South Africa’s undervalued food poverty line per capita of R561 (as at 2019). Our data shows that the cost to feed a small child aged between three and nine years costs at least R564.61 in July 2020.” 

The group believes a basic income grant will help the country create new economic growth.

Working class day of action

The Casual Workers Advice Office and Simunye Workers Forum have made a call to communities and workers to organise themselves for mass action against the government’s failure to focus on working class people during the Covid-19 crisis. They say the untimely opening of schools and industry placed the lives of impoverished people at risk. Pay cuts, retrenchments and rampant corruption has seen capital collude with the state at the expense of the black working class.

The demonstration in Gauteng will be held at the provincial legislature in the Johannesburg central business district on 1 August. Communities elsewhere are encouraged to engage in political action to highlight their struggles on the day. 

At the centre of the protest are the failed Covid-19 relief programmes, including social grants, unemployment insurance fund relief for workers and food distribution that was not maintained and did not reach everyone.   

Massive IMF loan approved

South Africa stepped into unknown territory this week when the board of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) approved its request for just over R70 billion in emergency support to address the Covid-19 pandemic. 

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Initial signs are that this is not a conditional loan. Some critics are wary, however, that elements in the National Treasury might use the loan as a ruse for fiscal conservatism. IMF structural adjustment programmes have historically wreaked havoc in developing economies.

No water for over 50 days

In the Mnxe Administrative Area of the Chris Hani District Municipality in Eastern Cape, one village has had no water for almost half the lockdown period. Solomzi Ntungwa, 26, of Polar Park village said they have had no water for more than 50 days, except for four days two weeks ago. 

“During this coronavirus, we are fetching water from the river. Whenever we report to the municipality, they say the water truck is coming, but when it arrives, it only fills the tanks of individuals like municipal officials and other important people.” 

Ntungwa said the river was unclean as a dead donkey had been thrown into it. Polar Park village has its own reservoir and residents say they expected the water truck to fill it and not to give water to individuals only. “When I phone the municipality, they just tell me it seems the municipal workers are not cooperating with me. But it is their responsibility to direct their workers, not mine,” said Ntungwa.

Mismanaged healthcare

On 30 July, the Unemployed Peoples’ Movement (UPM) called for the Eastern Cape Health MEC, Sindiswa Gomba, to be fired immediately. Their call has come after about 850 nurses tested positive for coronavirus in the province, and the province dragged its heels on offering permanent employment to frontline casual healthcare workers. 

“The state does not even keep proper records for the unnumbered dead. Behind the virus, we suffer from the social ills of a wretched state and economy that is geared towards the wealth and power of a small ruling class and thieving political elite,” said UPM leaders Sinesipho Soxujwa and Siphosetu Manyati.

Soxujwa and Manyati said the Eastern Cape health department was a “terrible circus of horror” with state hospitals known as “places of death, of horror and trauma to many patients and families affected and infected by Covid-19”. “People reliant on these hospitals, most especially the black working and poor, face the grim effects of corruption, mismanagement and underfunding,” they added, saying the UPM would institute legal action against the government if Gomba was not dismissed.

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