Johannesburg - The wives of the two men at the centre of a R125 million personal protective equipment (PPE) contract awarded to disputed Amabhaca King, Madzikane II Thandisizwe Diko, are close friends who served as each other’s bridesmaids at their respective weddings.
According to sources in the ANC and government, President Cyril Ramaphosa’s spokesperson Khusela Diko and Gauteng Health MEC Dr Bandile Masuku’s wife Loyiso Lugayeni-Masuku are long-time buddies and political confidants who socialised together, often joined by their husbands.
This raises questions about whether Lugayeni-Masuku and Diko’s personal relationship also played a role in the awarding of a controversial tender to Royal Bhaca Project. The company, whose sole director is Thandisizwe, was registered in January 2019 and had no track record.
Sunday Independent reported last week that Royal Bhaca was among the beneficiaries of R2.2 billion PPEs contracts awarded by Masuku’s department within five days of Ramaphosa announcing a national lockdown on March 26.
It charged taxpayers inflated prices for supplying and delivering one million medical waste plastic bags, and 500 000 dust masks, sanitisers and surgical masks each, according to official internal documents. This came as Covid-19 claimed the lives of 12 teachers in Gauteng, the pandemic’s epicentre.
It comes against the backdrop of Kwazulu-Natal Premier Sihle Zikalala’s revelation that the provincial social development department irregularly spent R30 million on blankets and PPEs.
Four sources - including two Gauteng ANC activists, a government official and a businesswoman - this week said the department launched a witch-hunt against finance and supply chain staff by shafting some around and moving others to the Covid Centre at Ormonde, south of Johannesburg.
They also claimed that Royal Bhaca’s multi-million contract was part of a fundraising strategy ahead of the Johannesburg ANC regional conference at which Lugayeni-Masuku is expected to contest for the position of chairperson.
She is currently Johannesburg ANC deputy secretary and mayoral committee member (MMC) in the City of Joburg.
Lugayeni-Masuku’s husband and Diko are close comrades who serve in the Gauteng ANC provincial executive committee (PEC), a powerful leadership structure which plays an oversight role over the provincial government.
“I see some people say there’s also an element of money laundering through PPEs, especially with the ANC GP conference coming up. Allegations are Loyiso Lugayeni- Masuku wants to be the next Chair and Mayor of Johannesburg, and she’s friends with Khusela. So they saw an opportunity to raise money to buy votes for the upcoming conference through these dodgy deals. MEC for Health is Loyiso’s husband, and they all are friends with the Dikos,” said an ANC activist.
Another source added: “They shifted people around the department on Monday. If your job was to receive purchase orders, they moved you to another section or gave you another job. Other people were moved from the department to the Covid Centre. Why are they doing that if they have nothing to hide? They are panicking and want to stop information from leaking.”
According to pictures on the duo’s Facebook pages, they served as bridesmaids at each other’s weddings in September and December 2018, while Diko also attended Lugayeni-Masuku’s baby shower. In one of the pictures, the Masukus and the Dikos can be seen together at a wedding of mutual friends clad in traditional attire. The MEC and Thandisizwe are seen shaking hands in another picture.
Asked about the relationship between his wife and Dikos, the apparent conflict of interest, and allegations that the Royal Bhaca tender was a fundraising strategy for a regional conference, Masuku referred all enquiries to departmental spokesperson Kwara Kekana.
“In April 2020, the MEC for Health in Gauteng, Dr Bandile Masuku, made a request to the Gauteng Audit Services (GAS), to conduct an audit into Covid-19 procurement and donations. As a result of some red flags raised, the MEC Masuku requested Gauteng Premier to institute a forensic investigation into Covid-19 procurement. The Premier subsequently requested the Special Investigative Unit (SIU) in May to investigate the matter,” Kekana said.
“As part of risk management, the Gauteng Provincial Treasury, through GAS, undertakes regular internal audit and review of major procurement processes of PPE, food and related infrastructure in order to ensure that clean governance is adhered to. Where issues need further probing, they are escalated to relevant law enforcement authorities. The Gauteng Department of Health is not in a position to make further comments as it relates Covid-19 procurement to avoid interference with the ongoing investigation by the SIU.”
Kekana did not respond to questions about the redeployment of staff from the finance and supply chain management units. Lugayeni-Masuku and Thandisizwe did not respond to questions sent for comment on Friday.
Diko also did not respond to Sunday Independent questions. However, she circulated the questions on social media and used her Facebook page to confirm her friendship with Lugayeni-Masuku.
“Bahlali ndicela (people, I need) assistance responding here. I doubt I have ever hidden my friendship with Loyiso, and of course, that was key consideration for me to do what I did,” Diko said.
However, Diko’s strategy appeared to have backfired when most of her Facebook friends urged her to respond to Sunday Independent's “fair and straightforward” questions.
“Khusela Diko, you take us for fools when you were submitting bids for R125 million tender with an entity without any reputation in the same industry you did not ask for our help. Why must we defend you now that you are in hot water, and had it all went unnoticed, we all know you would be chowing the millions in silence. Even now, you must answer alone and leave us out of it,” wrote Mateu Saki Molokomme.
Sources also claimed that Masuku’s Chief of Staff, David Maimela, played a central role in the awarding of the PPE contracts, an allegation he vehemently denied.
“How does a Chief of Staff do what you suggest?” Maimela asked.
This came as President Ramaphosa this week signed a proclamation authorising the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) to probe allegations of fraud, corruption and inflated pricing related to the R500 billion Covid-19 relief fund.
“We are determined that every instance of alleged corruption must be thoroughly investigated, that those responsible for wrongdoing should be prosecuted and that all monies stolen or overpriced are recovered. In order to speed up and strengthen the process of dealing with corruption, I have today signed a proclamation authorising the Special Investigating Unit - the SIU - to investigate any unlawful or improper conduct in the procurement of any goods, works and services during or related to the national state of disaster in any state institution.
“This empowers the SIU to probe any allegations relating to the misuse of Covid-19 funds across all spheres of the state. If the SIU finds evidence that a criminal offence has been committed, it is obliged to refer such evidence to the prosecuting authority,” Ramaphosa said.
The EFF, DA and the Gauteng ANC Youth League have called for an investigation into the PPE contracts awarded by the Gauteng Department of Health.
“Consistent with the Youth Leagues stance against the Life Esidimeni corruption, we will also not tolerate any corruption under this administration. We, therefore, call on the Premier to make an undertaking that he will take serious actions against “Revolutionaries” who have turned into thieves,” said Gauteng ANCYL chairperson Matome Chiloane.
The EFF also called for Diko’s “immediate dismissal as the spokesperson to the president”.
DA Gauteng Shadow MEC for Health Jack Bloom said the department needed to explain the Royal Bhaca contract, adding it might be the reason “why the department's Chief Financial Officer Kabelo Lehloenya resigned recently”.
The Sunday Independent