South Africas' Double Blow - Corruption and Covid-19 Pandemic

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As the number of coronavirus cases increase in South Africa, there are growing concerns over widespread corruption involving funds meant to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic.

South Africa has registered more than 500,000 Covid-19 cases -- making it the hardest-hit country in Africa. The country's recorded cases represent just over 50% of all reported infections in 54 African countries.

According to figures by Johns Hopkins University, South Africa, with a population of about 59 million, is the fifth nation in the world with the highest number of Covid-19 cases. It falls behind the US, Brazil, Russia and India respectively -- all these countries have a bigger population than South Africa.

The virus is taking a toll on many aspects of life in the southern African nation. The health sector, one of many, is being overwhelmed by a growing number of patients.

In Gauteng and Western Cape, the worst affected provinces, exhibition venues and conventional centers are being turned into emergency hospitals.

According to Martin Kingston, leader of the Business for South Africa Organization, the worst is yet to come. "We think that the surge which is clearly upon us is likely to peak towards the end of August leading into September," Kingston told DW.

"So, we expect increasing levels of both infection and, of course, mortality throughout the balance of the year."

Massive corruption

The efforts of fighting the virus are facing a stiff challenge as massive corruption in the purchasing and supply of Covid-19 gear threatens efforts to combat the outbreak.

The graft involves overpricing, substandard products and services, and giving tenders to those connected to the government and the ruling party.

Anti-corruption groups in South Africa say that in Gauteng alone, some 91 companies, who received purchase orders from the Department of Health, are under investigation.

Amongst the top officials being investigated is President Cyril Ramaphosa's spokesperson Khusela Diko. Her husband allegedly scored a US$7 million (6 million euro) tender. The Gauteng provincial minister of health Bandile Masuku and his wife have also been put on special leave over Covid-19 related tender corruption allegations.

President Ramaphosa said his government is working to 'root out corruption' in the purchase and distribution of medical equipment. "It is unconscionable that there are people who may be using this health crisis to unlawfully enrich themselves," said Ramaphosa, adding that: "It is impossible to discern what drives an entire family whose member stole funds meant for unemployed workers to go on a spending spree, buying cars, paying for renovations and beauty treatments, and even tombstones."

Demand for accountability

At least nine civil society groups have written to South African authorities demanding action be taken against state officials, private companies and individuals who are siphoning funds meant to deal with Covid-19 in Gauteng province.

More than a third of recorded Covid-19 cases are in Gauteng -- South Africa's financial hub and coronavirus's epicenter.

The organizations say it was a shame that few individuals were stealing at a time when the country faces reports of malnutrition, retrenchments, business closures and communities being unable to access healthcare and other services.

"Our country has had to borrow money from the IMF to deal with the crisis. Yet, for the ruthless 'covidpreneur,' and those within the state and other institutions who enable corruption, this is simply an opportunity to exploit the situation," a statement by the organizations read.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) approved $4.3 billion in emergency support for South Africa to help the nation deal with the Covid-19 pandemic. IMF said the money would assist South Africa to cope with the unfolding deep economic recession resulting from the COVID-19 shock.

Thuso Khumalo in Johannesburg contributed to this report.

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