Not forgotten: The sordid story of how Mosebenzi ‘Gupta’ Zwane’s thugs wreaked havoc in a Free State hospital
Opinion: An article this week by the Daily Maverick’s Ferial Haffajee The sordid story of Mosebenzi ‘Gupta’ Zwane – South Africa’s most captured Cabinet minister reminds us just what a scumbag this former MEC, Minister and still Member of our Parliament is.
However, Haffajee omits one other sordid story from this politicians CV which is worth reminding people about. Not only was he prepared to pull all kinds of strings for his friends the Guptas, he was also prepared to pull all kinds of strings to access an extremely scarce Intensive Care Unit hospital bed in the Free State for his relative and Comrade.
In keeping with the thug nature of Free State politics, one hand washes the other, Zwane reportedly found willing bouncers in the form of a group of medical doctors who happened to be provincial health department government officials. They were then Health MEC Dr Benny Malakoane, the head of the provincial health department Dr David Motau and a Deputy Director General in the department Dr Teboho Moji.
Whistleblowers leaked the repugnant details to SECTION27 Executive Director Mark Heywood, who then made it public via the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) and the media. While Malakoane, Motau and Moji were the targets of ongoing attempts by the TAC and SECTION27 to get this case prosecuted, it is worth reminding the public about what happened that night in June 2014 and subsequently in Bethlehem in the Free State and the “background” role of Zwane.
Whistle-blower health workers in Bethlehem in the eastern Free State told Mark Heywood that Malakoane and Motau walked unannounced into the Phekholong hospital on the night of 27 June 2014. They instructed doctors to transfer a male patient, who was later revealed to be Zwane’s relative and an ANC member, to Dihlabeng Hospital as Phekholong had no Intensive Care Unit beds. Both hospitals are in Bethlehem.
The transfer went ahead and upon the patient’s arrival at Dihlabeng, the ICU doctor on duty assessed that he did not qualify for admission to the already full unit because he was in the final stages of a chronic condition and was unlikely to recover. According to doctors two more deserving and critical patients had already been turned away from the ICU earlier in the night because there simply were not enough beds.
Zwane’s relative was then admitted to the medical ward and not ICU.
It is worth noting that Malakoane and his department had taken a decision previously to close two of the five ICU beds at Dihlabeng because apparently there was no money. This meant that many patients who met the criteria for ICU admission were turned away.
However, on 28 June, Dr Moji arrived at the hospital and called a doctor to the car park where he allegedly enquired about the patient (Zwane relative) who was supposed to be admitted to ICU, allegedly on instruction of Malakoane (who the doctor claimed had been on the phone to Moji moments before). Moji told the doctor that Malakoane was not happy that his instruction had been ignored and that the then Agriculture MEC Zwane knew this patient and wanted him placed in ICU.
The hospital proceeded to open the fourth ICU bed after much pressure and upon Malakoane’s instruction. This was despite the fact that multiple patients with the same diagnosis and prognosis as Zwane’s relative were not being admitted to ICU and were dying.
On 30 June a fifth bed was also opened for a burns patient. A day later a young burns patient also arrived and needed an ICU bed. Doctors had to make a decision about who to transfer out of ICU…an elderly patient was transferred to the surgical ward where she died.
After having spent several days in ICU, where Zwane’s relative received palliative care he could have easily received in another ward, he was transferred to the medical ward on 6 July and died 12 days later.
Once the media reported on the case, the Free State health department went into denial. Spokesperson Mondli Mvambi told enca at the time that it was not true that Malakoane had intervened to access a bed in the ICU when the patient was much too sick to benefit from it and that other patients were turned away and one of them died as a result.
“No that is absolutely not true, the MEC was acting on the case of an individual whom he saw because you must remember the MEC is a doctor in his own right he saw this patient, he saw the file, he called the clinical specialist in the hospital, assessed the file and jointly agreed with the specialist that this was a deserving case for the ICU and taking that decision which was still left to the prerogative of the clinical head to make a decision to remove the patient from Pekholong to Dihlabeng hospital, the MEC was not aware of the other case that was at Dihlabeng hospital, a patient who was allegedly in ICU previously and had been removed from an ICU to a normal ward because they were recuperating in that ward.”
The TAC, with the legal assistance of SECTION27, tried several avenues to get charges instituted against Malakoane, Motau and Moji. These included pressing charges under a section of the Prevention and Combating of Corrupt Activities Act and the Public Finance Management Act.
A timeline included below reveals a story of lost police dockets, pickets to try and get matters moving, a National and Provincial Prosecuting Authority dragging its heels and finally a decision with flimsy reasons to not prosecute.
Finally, on 2 April 2017, by now Zwane was Minister of Mineral Resources in Jacob Zuma’s Cabinet, the NPA informed the TAC that “after careful consideration of the relevant legal provisions, the available evidence in the docket and the consultations conducted with some of the state witnesses, the Prosecution Team who dealt with this matter has decided to decline to prosecute anyone in connection with this matter.” Advocate E Smith, Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions in the Free State said the reasons not to prosecute were as follows:
- A doctor at Phekolong said that Malakoane and Motau had “requested” that the Zwane relative be transferred to Dihlabeng ICU. Smith said that in two subsequent statements the doctor said the two men had “told” him to transfer the patient. Smith said this constituted a contradiction which affected the veracity of the witness negatively. The doctor did also not “mention or implicate” Moji.
- The Dihlabeng doctor who had been instructed in the parking lot by Moji was found to have not had “direct/personal contact with Malakoane regarding the alleged “instruction”” to have the patient admitted to ICU. The NPA said this constituted hearsay. The NPA also revealed that Moji declined to become a witness and depose a statement.
- It could not be proved that a patient who had been turned away from ICU had died
The NPA’s Smith then makes an interesting statement in his final paragraph. “A letter had been addressed to the Premier of the Free State (then Ace Magashule) recommending that he deal with the conduct of MEC Dr Malakoane, Dr Motau and Dr Moji internally in securing a bed for the patient in ICU when he did not qualify to be admitted to ICU in order to a prevent a reoccurrence thereof.”
The wheels of justice and accountability turn slowly, however in the Free State they often stop turning when political connections are involved and it is clear that then Premier Magashule did not pay much attention to the letter the NPA claimed it had sent.
Dr Benjamin Malakoane is now the MEC for Economic, Small Business Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs, Zwane’s old job. This is in spite of a slew of corruption allegations during his time in local government and as Health MEC.
Dr David Motau continues to be the Head of the Free State Health Department. This is despite a number of questionable tenders, some with links to the Gupta family, and a severely depleted health system on his watch.
Dr Teboho Moji comes up as the acting Deputy Director General for District Health Services in the KwaZulu-Natal health department.
And Mosebenzi Zwane is now an esteemed Member of Parliament. How does that often referred to old saying by Austrian-British economist Friedrich August von Hayek go? “In Government, scum always rises to the top.”
1 September 2014 – The TAC lays charges against Malakoane, Motau and Moji at Parkway Police Station in Bloemfontein. TAC General Secretary Anele Yawa submits a 12-page affidavit detailing the events.
18 September 2014 – Yawa writes to Brigadier Tosholi in Bloemfontein confirming that he had been informed on 4 September that the case had been transferred to Bethlehem and allocated a new case number. However, an investigating officer had not been assigned due to the absence of the docket which was presumed missing. Also, on 15 September SECTION27 was informed that the case had been now transferred to the provincial head office as “the case is a high profile fraud matter involving senior police office bearers”. A Lieutenant-Colonel at head office informs SECTION27 that the docket is currently missing.
29 September 2014 – SECTION27 writes to Brigadier Tsokolo Posholi on behalf of the TAC, asking how the docket which had earlier been reported missing had been found. They also requested an update on the case.
29 October 2014 – Yawa writes to Posholi stating that the witnesses he wishes to interview fear being victimised. The TAC express serious concern in the lack of response from the Brigadier’s office.
26 May 2015 – Yawa writes to Brigadier Posholi (cc-ing Senior Public Prosecutor H Holtzhuizen) detailing a number of calls and letters to the Brigadier’s office. Several letters and phone calls to the Brigadier remained unanswered. The letter also revealed that Holtzhuizen had told SECTION27 that Posholi had said that the investigation was “nearly completed” and that upon completion he would “personally hand the docket over to the Director of Public Prosecutions for a decision”.
12 October 2015 – The Free State Public Prosecutor subpoenas a number of doctors who were on duty at the two hospitals. The doctors are ordered to appear before a Magistrate or the Prosecutor to answer a range of questions.
12 May 2016 – 500 TAC and Free State Health Coalition members march to the South African Police Service and the Free State Prosecuting Authority demanding that the police urgently conclude its investigation into the matter. A memo was handed over to the police as well as the prosecuting authority.
19 May 2016 – Advocate E Smith, the Deputy Director for Public Prosecutions in the Free State sends a three sentence letter to Yawa stating they addressed a two page list of queries to the SAPS to be investigated. He claims that some of the issues have been investigated, but “the outstanding matters are still under investigation” and once the investigation is complete “this office intends to consult with some of the witnesses before a final decision will be made whether to institute a prosecution or not. Smith fails to address any of the questions in the TAC memo.
20 May 2016 – The TAC writes to NPA Director of Public Prosecutions Shaun Abrahams as well as advocates Ketani and Xolisile Khanyile of the NPA. The letter expresses concern regarding the ongoing delays. The TAC requests that the NPA gets the provincial office to respond properly to the memorandum and act.
4 April 2017 – Advocate E Smith, Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions in the Free State writes to the TAC’s Anele Yawa stating that, “After careful consideration of the relevant legal provisions, the available evidence in the docket and the consultations conducted with some of the state witnesses, the Prosecution Team who dealt with this matter has decided to decline to prosecute anyone in connection with this matter.”
Smith then set out the three flimsy reasons for their decision, none of which could be considered good enough. It is also notable that the one key witness, Dr Teboho Maji, who could have placed Malakoane at the centre of this case, declined to give a statement. The NPA did not explain why they did not opt to subpoena him.
Want to read more about corruption in the Free State health department?
These links go to several articles published in 2018
This article also appeared in the Daily Maverick