South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has hailed an Indian-origin woman, who was killed allegedly for providing critical information about a multi-million-Dollar PPE fraud during COVID-19 lockdown in the country last year, as a “hero and patriot”.
Babita Deokaran, 53, who was a senior official at the Gauteng provincial Department of Health, was shot multiple times through her car door when she returned home in a Johannesburg suburb after dropping her child at school on August 23. She was rushed to hospital where she died of her injuries.
She was a key witness in the investigations into a more than 330 million rand (over USD 20 million) fraud into the supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) during the COVID-19 lockdown in South Africa last year.
The scam was unearthed at the Department of Health in Gauteng province, where she had been appointed as acting chief financial director last year to assist in the investigation.
“Regardless of the circumstances behind this tragedy, Ms Deokaran was a hero and a patriot,” Ramaphosa said.
“(Her murder) is a stark reminder of the high stakes involved in our collective quest to remove this cancer from our society.
“While we do not yet know the motive for her murder, she was a key witness in a SIU (Serious Crime Investigation Unit) investigation into the procurement of personal protective equipment in the department,” Ramaphosa said.
He said that day by day, brave South Africans like Deokaran are standing firm that they will not be party to corruption and they are prepared to bear witness against it.
Meanwhile, two men were arrested on Thursday in the case. Six others were arrested last week in connection with the incident.
Giving details of the arrest of the additional two suspects, Police Minister Bheki Cele said the suspects would have to account for where the large amounts of cash that was found in their cars came from.
“The story was that it was an expensive exercise, where people were getting a lot of money each to pull the mission of killing Babita,” Cele said.
The six suspects have been charged with murder, attempted murder, conspiracy to commit murder and possession of unlicensed firearms.
The matter has been postponed till September 13.
Investigators said a woman, who was in the car with Deokaran when she was killed, was unharmed but has been moved into a “safe place” as a critical witness.
Tony Haripersad, Ms Deokaran’s brother-in-law, earlier told media that the witness, whose identity is being protected, was traumatised and afraid, but had made a statement to detectives.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)