CAPE TOWN (Reuters) – South African authorities are investigating government departments for graft over irregularities in coronavirus-related tenders worth 5 billion rand ($290 million), the head of its Special Investigating Unit (SIU) told lawmakers on Wednesday.
The figure is likely to add to pressure on President Cyril Ramaphosa and the ruling African National Congress, who have struggled to deflect criticism from alliance partners and opposition parties as allegations of corruption implicated senior ANC politicians.
Ramaphosa, who replaced his scandal-prone predecessor Jacob Zuma in 2017 with promises to eradicate corruption, has battled to root out criminality linked to the fight against COVID-19 in South Africa, which has the world’s fifth highest number of coronavirus infections at 592,144.
In a presentation to a parliamentary committee, Andy Mothibi, head of the SIU, which investigates allegations against public sector figures or institutions, said it was working on 658 cases nationwide involving just over 5 billion rand – the first time a number has been put on the alleged graft.
The provincial health department of the central Gauteng province, an economic hub and home to Johannesburg, alone accounted for just under half of the total, at 2.2 billion rand, Mothibi added.
“The allegations reported to the SIU involved the procurement of PPEs (personal protective equipment), hospital and quarantine sites, catering services (food parcels), ventilators, disinfecting equipment and motorised wheelchairs,” he said.
(Reporting by Wendell Roelf; editing by Barbara Lewis)