The South African Human Rights Commission have said it, opposition politicians have said it, doctors and unions have said it, and finally national health minister Aaron Motsoaledi has said it: The KwaZulu-Natal Health Department has fallen apart.
The minister’s first step – he is a politician, after all – was to direct his full attention to polishing his own reputation. So he was happy to concede that the KZN health department has a failed human resources department and a defunct procurement office, its finances are in a mess and its employees are unhappy and there is a severe lack of skills in upper management.
But nobody needs to worry – because he is on to it! Really?
The crisis was officially confirmed in a report published in July by the SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC). Amongst others, the oncology service once offered by the KZN department was found to be effectively defunct. Due to gross incompetence, two cancer radiotherapy machines (called rapid arc linear accelerators), lay broken at Addington Hospital, Durban. This and an exodus of oncology staff due to dire working conditions, led to waiting times for treatment increasing from eight weeks to eight months. Many poor citizens of the province have, no doubt, died as a consequence: cancer doesn’t wait. The situation has been steadily deteriorating over the past seven years, so nobody should have been taken by surprise.
The machines had been left in pieces and gathering dust, not because there was a lack of appropriate skills to operate them, but because KZN Health MEC Dr Sibongiseni Dhlomo’s department was in dispute with – and stopped paying – the supplier-contractor who was supposed to maintain the sophisticated machines, Tecmed Africa (nose213). Dhlomo accused the company of corruption, although no such charges have been laid against it. In the interim, Dhlomo’s department employed a backstreet radiation machine mechanic who succeeded in destroying one machine and leaving the other in a dire condition. This contract itself was irregular, not having gone to open tender.
Dhlomo at some stage decided he would visit what he believed was Tecmed’s headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, to sort things out. His office apparently did not think to phone ahead to ask key questions, such as whether there is a Tecmed head office in Geneva and whether the company itself manufactures the linear accelerators it markets.
As a result, Dhlomo arrived at a Tecmed letterbox address in Switzerland, to be told he should be in the USA, where the actual radiation machine manufacturer, Varian, is based. (Many are convinced Dhlomo was on a private visit to Geneva and needed a cover so he could bill the state for the trip.)
At a press conference in August, Noseweek asked KZN premier Willies Mchunu why Dhlomo hadn’t been fired; he bloviated and obfuscated, as is his way.
“As soon as something goes wrong [people say] the minister must be fired, the MEC must be fired. Little does anyone pay attention to administration.”
As Mchunu knows, Dhlomo has been in charge of the department since 2009, and over the past eight years has had the final say on the appointment of most senior staff currently employed in its hospitals and administration.
Motsoaledi’s reply to the same question: “I’m a politician, the MEC is a politician. I report to the president, [the MEC] reports to the premier so I will leave that one [unanswered].”
They don’t, apparently, feel under any obligation to account to their voters.
When Noseweek asked Mchunu what he would say to the families who lost loved ones to untreated cancer, and why there appears to be no accountability, he accused our reporter of “making a political statement”.
“We will decide on a course of action as government,” he said. No doubt that will be “when Jesus comes”. His empathy brought tears to Mr Nose’s eyes.
Mchunu and Motsoaledi only confirmed what we already knew: power and patronage are what count in the ANC, regardless of which faction you are talking to.
• As we went to press, KPMG international partners rushed to discipline their South African partners for having created “reputational risk” for the other members of this “big four” international audit firm. Too late, it seems. Suspicion about their moral integrity has already spread far and wide, not only to all their South African clients, as our cover suggests, but has also flown abroad – and, Noseweek has discovered, elicited a loud echo in faraway Canada (see KPMG and a load of scrap in this issue).
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