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Coronavirus in South Africa: Whistleblower questions winter tent deaths



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Jeanette Mlombo says corruption and carelessness are responsible for her son’s death

Suspected Covid-19 patients were routinely left for hours in an open tent, in sub-zero temperatures, outside a South African hospital during the mid-winter peak of the pandemic, leading to “many” people dying of suspected hypothermia, according to an exclusive investigation by BBC News.

The revelations have emerged as South Africa’s government has acknowledged and condemned widespread corruption and mismanagement during its response to the pandemic.

“It was freezing in that tent. As soon as night falls it’s horrible, you can see the patients declining. Hypothermia is one of the major causes of death here. Especially in that tent,” said a doctor at Sebokeng Hospital – a whistleblower who spoke to us on condition of anonymity.

The doctor said 14 people had reportedly died in the tent over one 48-hour period – though not all of hypothermia.

‘Disorganised havoc’

“We’re tired and sad and fearful for our patients. I ask myself how many people need to die unnecessarily for there to be an adequate investigation,” she said.

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The tent at Sebokeng Hospital was erected in the car park

The doctor described “horrific” scenes in the marquee-sized tent – erected in the car park and used by the hospital as a makeshift triage and waiting room – over the course of several cold and hectic weeks in July, with elderly patients collapsing after being left for two days or more without sanitation, food or proper heating.

She said sick people were forced to crowd around three small electric heaters that frequently broke.

“I felt very stressed, angry, [and] hopeless. The lack of resources in that tent is an absolute joke… disorganised havoc.

“We don’t have drugs. No ventilator equipment. There was PPE lying all over the place, waiting to infect more people,” said the doctor, who complained that a number of medical staff had caught the virus as a result of the conditions.

“It’s corruption and carelessness,” said Jeanette Mlombo, whose son, Martin, died last month at Sebokeng Hospital, at the age of 30.

She said he had not been tested for Covid-19 and had initially complained of swollen legs, but had been left for a total of 12 hours in the tent.

“It was freezing. He was shivering, starving. He said: ‘I slept the whole night here without any blanket. I’m going to die. Nobody’s taking care of me,'” Ms Mlombo recalled.

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Leaked messages have revealed that the decision to use tents provoked an angry backlash from experts in the provincial health department.

Internal discussions on a WhatsApp group, seen by the BBC, show that medical advisers urged management not to use the tents, precisely because of the risk to patients.

Some read:

  • “Tents are very cold at present.”
  • “I have never been in favour of tents… I find making our people sleep in cold tents inhuman.”
  • “Tents are a no-go area for me.”

Hospital ‘well stocked’

Responding to the whistleblower’s allegations about Sebokeng Hospital, a spokesman for Gauteng Department of Health, Kwara Kekana, rejected the suggestion that “many” people had died because of the cold, writing in an email that “death statistics based on the hospital report does not reflect death diagnosed by hypothermia”.

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Media captionCoronavirus in South Africa: A day in the life of a contact tracer

The spokeswoman also denied claims of a shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) and a lack of proper donning and doffing areas, sharing documents that showed the hospital’s stocks of hand sanitiser, gowns, and other relevant equipment in August.

In recent weeks, the situation at Sebokeng has reportedly improved significantly, in part because of steps taken by management, but also, it would seem, because the number of infected cases has begun to drop dramatically.

Overall, South Africa appears to have weathered the first surge of the pandemic with some success.

Some provinces and hospitals have been widely praised for their response.

The government’s early and aggressive lockdown regime has also won praise – as well as fierce criticism from some quarters.

‘Hyenas profiting’

But the pandemic has also exposed deep institutional weaknesses, including a widespread culture of corruption and apparent nepotism, and the dangers of a system of “cadre deployment” that has seen key departments led by allegedly incompetent political appointees from the governing African National Congress (ANC).

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During the pandemic the prices for some surgical masks in South Africa have been marked up by 900%

President Cyril Ramaphosa has angrily condemned the corruption, citing examples of price hikes of 900%, and lashing out at “hyenas” seeking to profit from disaster.

A number of senior officials and ministers have been criticised for instances where their relatives have secured large contracts from government.

The South African authorities say they are now investigating government departments over irregularities in coronavirus-related tenders worth 5bn rand ($290m; £220m).

The whistleblower at Sebokeng told us that she and other staff had repeatedly complained about conditions, and inquired about how special Covid-19 relief funds were being disbursed.

“We haven’t seen that money. I do know management is aware of our struggles. We’ve tried multiple times as doctors and nurses to try to ask management where the money is being allocated,” the doctor said.

“Are we going to get more staff, more resources? And we don’t really get answers, and that is devastating for us.”

Contracts being investigated

The hospital’s communication department declined our request for an interview, saying all Covid-19 queries should be directed to the provincial health department.

In response to these complaints raised by the medics, Ms Kekana said the hospital held regular staff meetings, and had a compliance officer and a dedicated team to ensure standards were met.

The local government minister in charge of health in Gauteng Province, Bandile Masuku, was recently forced to take a leave of absence following corruption allegations against him. Mr Masuku has denied the allegations, saying he was not involved in, nor did he influence, the department’s procurement processes.

Investigators are examining more than 100 Covid-19-related contracts in the province.

“This pandemic has exposed a lot of our system’s flaws. But hopefully we can do something about it,” said the whistleblower.

“We need to learn from this pandemic so we are better equipped to deal with other illnesses in the future.”

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Another blow as Judge throws out Kiggundu’s lawyer Muwema



When court sat on Friday to hear the Kiggundu’s application to stop independent audit, he did not have a written application, and Justice Henry Adonyo instead ordered the plaintiff’s lawyer Fred Muwema to go make a written application seeking court to dismiss the audit and return to court on September 30 for a hearing of the application. But this adds more pressure on Kiggundu who is choking with the loans.

On 31 August, the judge ordered the Institute of Certified Public Accountants of Uganda (ICPAU) to carry out and independent audit into the accounts of the businessman and financial statements exchanged between the two parties, and present a report to court.

When asked by journalists why he has filed for an application seeking dismissal of the audit, Fred Muwema had this to say. “We are saying that let the validity and legality of those credit facilities (loans) be decided first before you can audit” He said.

The ruling on the application of the main suit to determine whether the businessman owes loan arrears to the bank is set for 5th October 2020, after which a date for hearing of the case will be set.


Hamis Kiggundu through his companies Ham enterprises and Kiggs International (U) ltd sued DTB branches in Kenya and Uganda for deducting money from his accounts something which the bank contends and said they only acted as per the loan agreement of deducting 30% from Kiggundu’s accounts to recover the credit facilities rendered to him between February 2011 and September 2016

But Court documents filed by the bank in their defense shows that Kiggundu, between February 2011 and September 2016, was granted various credit facilities by the said DTB Banks.

First, via Ham Enterprises Limited, Kiggundu obtained a loan of $6,663,453 and another Sh2.5bn from the DTB (U) to finance his projects in the real estate business.

Later, according to New Vision, he got a facility worth $4.5m through Kiggs International (U) Limited from DTB (K) and mortgaged his properties, which include Plot 328 located at Kawuku on Block 248 Kyadondo, three plots that include 36, 37 and 38 on Folio 1533 Victoria Crescent II situated in Kyadondo and land on Makerere Hill Road on LRV 3716 Folio 10 Plot 923 Block 9.

Documents show that as of January 21, 2020, Kiggundu was in default on payment obligations of $6.298m on the loan facility of $6.663m, as well as sh2.885b on the demand overdraft facility of sh1.5b and the temporary demand overdraft facility of sh1b.

The banks say that Kiggundu was in default on the payment of another $3.662m out of a total loan facility of $4m and another $458,604 on a loan facility of $500,000, as of January 21, 2020.

The DTB consequently served him with a demand notice to either pay up or lose the assets that he submitted as collateral security. The bank threatened to attach a plot on Makerere Hill Road and other prime commercial properties.

Analysts says that Kiggundu’s lawyer is playing delaying tactics aimed at stopping the independent audit as ordered by the court earlier. Kiggundu had wanted court to believe his own audit of loan transactions, but that would amount to injustice to the banks that gave him money-DTB Uganda and DTB Kenya.

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Minister Rukutana charged with attempted murder, remanded




The state minister for Labour, Gender and Economic Development Mwesigwa Rukutana has been remanded to Kyamugorani prison in Mbarara district.

Rukutana appeared before Ntungamo Grade One magistrate Nazifah Namayanja this afternoon from where he was charged with seven offences related to attempted murder, assault, malicious damage, and threatening violence.

Rukutana was captured in a video that went viral on social media showing him grabbing a gun from one of his bodyguards and started shooting at a vehicle belonging to supporters of his political rival Naome Kabasharira. At the time of the incident, Rukutana had just lost the Rushenyi country NRM flag to Kabasharira.

The prosecution alleges that on September 5, 2020, at Kagugu village in Ntungamo district, Rukutana and others still at large assaulted Julius Niwamanya and threatened to kill or injure him together with three others. The others are Stuart Kamukama, Dan Rwibirungi, and Moses Kamukama. 

It is also alleged that Rukutana also willfully and unlawfully damaged a motor vehicle registration number UAR 840X Toyota Rav 4 type which belongs to Moses Muhumuza.

According to the Judiciary public relations officer, Jameson Karemani, Rukutana has not taken a plea of these charges against him since they can only be tried by the chief magistrate who was not in court today.

As a result, the magistrate decided to send him to Kyamugorani, awaiting his return to court on Tuesday.      

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Lira district headquarters closed over COVID-19




Lira district headquarters have been closed after one staff tested positive for COVID-19 last week. 

On Monday morning, district staff were blocked at the gate with only the deputy chief administrative officer, his secretary and the receptionist allowed access to their offices. 

Paul Samuel Mbiiwa, the deputy chief administrative officer says that only heads of department will be allowed at the headquarters while the rest will work from home. He adds that the restriction will help to curb the spread of the virus.

“You see corona is not a joke. We have taken a step at fighting it and that is why you are seeing the staff outside. Even in my office here I do not want people to come if there is anything we can discuss on the phone.”

Francis Okello Olwa, a senior community development officer who doubles as the district spokesperson says that the entire district offices will be fumigated and closed for two days.

Health authorities in the district are planning to take samples from all the staff because they could have interacted with the one who tested positive. Currently, there are 19 COVID-19 patients under treatment at Lira regional referral hospital.     

On Sunday four health workers at the hospital tested positive for COVID-19. Dr Patrick Odongo, a senior medical officer at the hospital also succumbed to the virus.  

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