Defence and Military Veterans Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula has gone to the wider intelligence community in naming a task team to “investigate the veracity of allegations” around the acquisition of Interferon B from Cuba.
The three-strong team has been given six months to prepare a report “with recommendations to address any wrongdoing uncovered whether of a criminal or disciplinary nature and to include broader recommendations on how to stop such behaviour and prevent it going forward should the allegations be confirmed,” according to a Department of Defence (DoD) statement. In addition, the task team will also investigate allegations against Defence Intelligence – not specified in the statement – and report its findings to Mapisa-Nqakula.
The task team will be chaired by former Intelligence director general Zola Ngcakani. Assisting him are former director general in The Presidency Cassius Lubisi and former National Intelligence Agency (NIA) director general Billy Masethla.
The acquisition of Heberon from Cuba for apparent dispensing to soldiers and other SA National Defence Force (SANDF) personnel involved in combatting the spread of coronavirus is under investigation by the SA Health Products Regulatory Agency (SAHPRA) and the National Department of Health. The national defence force’s military health service is also part of the ongoing investigation instituted by Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Defence and Military Veterans (PCDMV).
The Cuban drug Heberon is not approved for use in South Africa and it is alleged the SANDF spent more than R260 million to import it from the Caribbean Island state last year.
In support of the proposed use of the unregistered drug, Surgeon General Lieutenant General Zola Dabula last month told the PCDMV the decision to acquire it was based on it “to be potentially useful as it offered protection for Cuban medical personnel deployed at different hotspots globally”. A DoD presentation to the committee had it the urgency in acquiring the Cuban drug “it was imperative then (in March), with borders closing and China procuring Cuban Interferon in large quantities to procure the drug before it is either not available or escalated in price due to demand”. It was also stated the SANDF would be able to clear drugs procured in an emergency on application, presumably to SAHPRA, but not stated as such.