Let Babita’s death not be in vain

Murdered Gauteng department of health finance official Babita Deokaran was due to be a witness in an investigation into PPE irregularities.
Murdered Gauteng department of health finance official Babita Deokaran was due to be a witness in an investigation into PPE irregularities.
Image: Supplied

Last Monday, Babita Deokaran woke up in her Winchester Hills home in the south of Johannesburg, to take her 16-year-old daughter to school.

As her daughter said goodbye to her mother, she had no way of knowing that it would be the last time she would ever see her alive.

This is because just minutes after that drop-off, twelve bullets were pumped into Babita’s car. She was brutally murdered.

Reports indicate that nothing of value was stolen from her car — not her laptop, wallet or cellphone. The killing of Babita was not a robbery gone wrong — it was an assassination.

To understand the heinousness of this crime, we must understand who the victim was.

Babita Deokaran was the chief director of financial accounting in the Gauteng department of health.

In August last year, she was appointed as the acting chief financial officer of the said department.

At the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, hundreds of millions of rand was looted in the Gauteng health department — a crime so colossal it would lead to the MEC, Dr Bandile Masuku, being fired.

The Special Investigating Unit (SIU) has been conducting an investigation into the looting of the Covid-19 funds, and its report was the basis upon which  Gauteng premier David Makhura was forced to act against Dr Masuku.

Babita was a key witness in the investigation. She was meant to testify against corrupt business people and politicians, as well as civil servants in her department, who lined their pockets with almost half a billion rand  — money intended for PPE in the province.

During her time as CFO, she had also stopped payments of irregular contracts within the department.

In a text message that she had sent to a close friend, which was read out at a vigil held in her honour at the Mary Fitzgerald Square in Johannesburg last Thursday, Babita had poignantly said: “Every year we have a different team of people who come in and loot, and the funds seem to be a bottomless pit.”

Babita was a public servant who understood the principle of Batho Pele, who was committed to stemming out the rot of corruption in the state.

And she was gunned down like a dog.

Seven people have been arrested in connection with her assassination.

And while I welcome this speedy arrest, the reality is that for as long there is a lack of protection for whistleblowers in our country, many whistleblowers are going to continue to be maimed and killed.

Babita is one of many in a long list of men and women who have suffered similar fates for doing what is morally and legally correct: exposing corruption, which is costing our country and its people so much in so many ways.

We must never allow our country to descend into a mafia state where corrupt businessmen and immoral politicians get away with assassinating men and women like Babita, and where we maintain an audible silence when it happens.

We must not allow those seven men to be the only ones who pay the price, for while they may have pulled the trigger, the mastermind is still hiding in the shadows.

He/she must be found, and the corrupt officials who enabled the corruption to happen must face the full might of the law.

Anything less would mean Babita’s death was in vain.

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