IKE MOROE: Why FS residents are protesting Wednesday's asbestos corruption trial


Increasingly, the people of the Free State Province are taking matters into their own hands to combat rampant state corruption, which for some time now, has been rudely unfolding in their midst. They marched on Luthuli House, the ANC headquarters on 19 October 2020, and now serious efforts are afoot to march to the provincial government and also picket at the asbestos roofing corruption trial scheduled for 11 November 2020 at the Bloemfontein High Court.

These campaigns are meant to register the Free State community’s deep disgust with rampant corruption in the province, carried out until recently with seeming impunity. The hope of the community is that the ANC as the governing party will take responsibility and take steps against those responsible, even if they are to be found at the helm of the party leadership.

State corruption can be argued to have become an alternative norm in the Free State. This is from appointing civil servants to positions of responsibility, to imposing “service providers” while violating tender processes to benefit patronage and syphon money out of state coffers. Various reports point out to people being appointed at high and sensitive civil service positions without proper qualifications, and being shifted around whenever questions arise about their competency in positions they would be holding.

A classical case is of the late Sandile Msibi, the former head of the Department of Police, Roads and Transport. Each time doubt was raised about his qualifications, it seemed to have kicked his stature to meteoric rise. He started as the municipal manager of Ngwathe local municipality and rose to head the Mangaung metro, from where he landed himself a lucrative position as the HOD of the Province’s Department of Police, Roads and Transport. He apparently died on 28 December 2017.

At his funeral, the then premier of Free State, Elias Ace Magashule, declared that he was poisoned and plans were in the process - with the help of the former President Jacob Zuma - to airlift Msibi to Russia for treatment. So far, no post mortem report has been made public to confirm or refute the current Secretary General of the ANC's allegation regarding the cause of Msibi’s death. However, members of that department relate a litany of stories in relation to tender corruption and the harassment of upright civil servants under in his watch and seemingly by his directive.

Tender corruption has its claws touching major projects in every region of the province, such that the revelations in Pieter Louis-Myburgh’s Gangster Paradise, may in all respects, just be a presentation of the proverbial tip of the iceberg. For instance, in the Mangaung Metro, the old Bloemfontein Prison (Ram Kraal) was somehow planned to be rebuilt to house the Free State legislature precinct. So far, not even a single brick has been removed or new ones placed.

However, it is reported that more than R200 million have been paid out to a consultant who has not done any work. In almost a similar exercise, more than R200 million was paid to consultants for the demolition of G-Hostel in Welkom, Lejweleputswa. Nothing happened, until the community established a crisis committee to look into the matter. In typical corruptive behaviour, the amount paid was simply forgotten as the government extended another R300 million to start work on the project.

Estina in Vrede, Thabo Mofutsanyana district, is in the news and the perpetrators of its corruption worth more than R240 million are currently in the under the microscope of the investigating agencies and the judiciary. Hopefully, the Free State people will see justice unfolding emphatically in that regard. Within the same format of corruption with seeming impunity in the Free State province, in the Fezile Dabi region in Orangeville, R21 million was allocated and a contactor was appointed for the construction of a sports ground. However, when the auditors went to inspect the site of the completed project, they found nothing on site.

In the Xhariep region, located in the south west of the Free State province water is scarce such that some communities often find themselves without a drop for extended periods. There is a diamond mine in that area in Jagersfontein. In that location, people are struggling with water, but the mine gets water tunnelled through at government cost. Interestingly, this is the mine that Mxolisi Dukwana in his presentation during his appearance before the Zondo Judicial Commission on State Capture mentioned that one of the Gupta brothers told him he fetches R3 million from every week.

These reports of corruption in the Free State are mindboggling. This is when the Free State economy has been tanking before COVID-19. In the meantime, the poverty headcount in the Free State with a population of 2,7 million, as calculated by StatsSA in 2016, indicate that 220,863 of households ran out of money 12 months before the survey, while 15.7% of the total population recorded they missed a meal during the same period.

The above is an illustration of the poverty wreaking havoc in the province, while state corruption is running rampant there. It has been a state characterised by rabid corruption while the economy is sinking, joblessness is escalating, poverty is deepening and inequalities are rising. The people want to see justice done, and the wastage of public funds recouped from the wrongdoers. The picket on 11 November 2020 at the trial of those accused to have stolen the asbestos roofing rehabilitation project funds in the Free State is an important occasion for communities to highlight their struggle against corruption.

Isaac Ike Moroe is an MKVNC NEC member, ANC veteran, and a former banned and banished journalist.