News of Corruption amid COVID-19 Crisis Not “a big surprise”: Bishops in Southern Africa

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa.

Members of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SACBC) have, in a collective statement, expressed their condemnation of alleged misappropriation of COVID-19 resources but indicated that this corruption was somewhat expected.

“Although we are deeply appalled, the news of the looting of public resources during the pandemic does not come as a big surprise,” SACBC members say in their Thursday, August 13 report shared with ACI Africa.

In their statement, the Church leaders express their solidarity with those who have condemned the misappropriation of resources saying, “We join the nation in condemning the COVID-19 corruption scandal and the severe lack of ethical leadership that it represents.”

Reports of suspect deals between government officials and business people providing medical equipment, as well as food aid to the poor, have sparked outrage in South Africa, Reuters has reported.

With at least 573,000 reported infections of COVID-19 in South Africa, the country accounts for more than half of the cases in Africa. The pandemic has caused the death of at least 11,270 people while 438,000 patients have reportedly recovered.

On August 3, the leadership of South Africa’s anti-corruption watchdog said it was investigating the irregularities in contracts, the latest in a series of high-profile corruption scandals involving politically connected individuals.

On August 7, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa set up a ministerial committee to investigate corruption allegations, as the government faces criticism over its response to the pandemic.

In their August 13 collective statement, SACBC members say that “the current corruption scandal has further eroded public confidence in the office of the president and its ability to root out the cancer of corruption that is eating away the soul of our nation.”

“During this difficult time in our nation when the lives and livelihoods of millions of people are at stake, the country cannot afford high levels of trust deficit in the government and the office of the president,” they caution.

They want those at the helm of the country “to take careful note of the way in which they have allowed a culture of impunity around corruption to develop and provide an enabling environment for the current COVID-19 corruption.”

“In the previous years, despite serious allegations, there have been no arrests, prosecution and accountability for politicians and their families,” they decry in their August 13 statement signed by SACBC President, Bishop Sithembele Sipuka.

The Bishops appeal to President Ramaphosa “to abandon the politics of expediency and appeasement and take bold steps to restore public trust in the presidency as an institution.”

“The effectiveness of the current battle against the pandemic and economic recession requires the immediate intervention of the presidency which has the capacity to draw upon significant levels of public trust,” they say.

In their considered view, “the time for inter-ministerial committees, commissions of enquiries and political compromises is now over.”

“We want to see the immediate suspension, investigation, arrests and prosecution of those involved, irrespective of who they are,” SACBC members say in their 2-page statement.

They add, “We make a strong appeal to the president and his cabinet to expedite the re-establishment of a specialized anti-corruption unit, equivalent to the Scorpions, and ensure that it is guaranteed sufficient levels of independence and budget allocations.” 

“Specialized courts to handle corruption cases should also receive serious consideration to ensure higher conviction rates and to expedite the resolution of corruption cases,” they say.

SACBC members’ reaction reinforces that by the representatives of the South African Council of Churches (SACC) who have expressed displeasure over “revelations” of looting of funds meant to facilitate the fight against COVID-19 in the country.”

“We make an appeal for those people who are involved, some of whom are our congregants, to refrain from these criminal acts of fraud and corruption, and be reminded that they are not stealing from government, but from the mouths of people of South Africa, and more especially the poor who continue to suffer at this time,” SACC said in their July 30 statement.

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ACI Africa was officially inaugurated on August 17, 2019 as a continental Catholic news agency at the service of the Church in Africa. Headquartered in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, this media apostolate will strive to facilitate the telling of Africa’s story by providing media coverage of Catholic events on the African continent, giving visibility to the activities of the Church across Africa where statistics show significant growth in numbers and the continent gradually becoming the axis of Catholicism. This is expected to contribute to an awareness of and appreciation for the significant role of the Church in Africa and over time, the realization of a realistic image of Africa that often receives negative media framing.

Father Don Bosco Onyalla
Editor-in-Chief, ACI Africa
[email protected]