SANDF PPE scandal brought to light


Department of Defence officials are being investigated for apparently manipulating dozens of Covid-19 personal protective equipment (PPE) tenders, in the latest such scandal to emerge.

The Sunday Times reported that officials allegedly awarded contracts worth millions of rands to legitimate companies on condition they “ceded” them to pre-selected middlemen.

In September 2022, the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) brought four officers before a military court to face corruption charges resulting from a Special Investigating Unit (SIU) probe into R273 million PPE deals awarded in 2021 to five companies but now further evidence of fronting has come to light.

The fronting scheme unfolded in August and September 2021 at the department’s central procurement service centre in Eco-Park. Dozens of companies that had won PPE contracts were told to “cede” them to others, with a 10% fee being paid over to the original successful bidders, the Sunday Times reported.

Simon Tshikalange, owner of Timhuti Medical Supply, and his brother, Walter, owner of medical supplies company PDC Health and Training, ceded contracts worth more than R4.4 million and R2.58 million respectively to a business called Vhuyo Consulting. Vhuyo Consulting is owned by Mpho Nevhutalu, one of the biggest winners in the alleged fraud and corruption spree. He allegedly received R16.3 million to supply three-ply masks. Nevhutalu allegedly fronted by using details of other companies registered in the National Treasury’s central supplier database (CSD).

According to the Sunday Times, around 28 companies ceded their contracts – in some instances to individuals they didn’t know, from a different province – in exchange for a 10% fee.

SANDF spokesperson Brigadier General Andries Mokoena Mahapa said the matter is currently under investigation by the South African Police Service.

African Defence Review Director Darren Olivier believes that SANDF procurement is clearly compromised, as this is the third major incident of widespread corruption to have been uncovered recently.

“Why aren’t we seeing more of the senior leadership being held to account for this? Where’s the urgency from the Minister and Secretary for Defence? Procurement is one of the most crucial parts of the SANDF and dysfunction (or, worse, corruption) here damages every single operational capability and has severe knock on effects. It’s more than just money being wasted, though that’s a problem too for the under-funded force,” he maintains.

“The Minister of Defence and Secretary for Defence have a duty to perform the necessary oversight to identify and stop widespread issues like this while requiring changes to ensure they don’t recur. So far they have been failing at that task,” Olivier concluded.

Defence expert Dean Wingrin believes the latest PPE scandal could be the tip of the iceberg. “This is just what we know of. Smaller tenders are even easier to manipulate, not to mention there must be widespread abuse of the quote system for smaller purchases, but still very lucrative. It’s a problem affecting every national and a few local Government departments, state-owned enterprises etc.” he stated.