South Africa: Even the dead cannot rest in peace

by Russell Pollitt SJ


In the last few days, we have heard the bizarre story of how fugitive Thabo Bester’s girlfriend, Dr Nandipha Magudumana, allegedly stole three bodies from a mortuary to help stage his escape from prison. A few days later, one of the bodies was dumped in a river – still with the mortuary’s identification tag on the toe.


How can someone ‘steal’ bodies from a mortuary and then ‘sneak’ them into a prison? Dr Magudumana could not have done this without help – from the mortuary and the prison’s staff. You don’t put a body in your handbag and walk out of a morgue and into a jail with a smile. The cancer of corruption has become so widespread that even the dead cannot rest in peace and have become ‘bargaining chips’ in the hands of those we expect to care for our loved one’s mortal remains. It’s a rather sick story but, sadly, a picture of what the moral compass of the country has become.


Days after the gruesome details of the Bester affair hit the headlines, we heard of the collapse of seven power pylons in the City of Tshwane. The pylons, by all accounts, were eaten away by vandalism and theft. Amid an electricity supply crisis, some people steal bits and pieces of public infrastructure – not just powerlines – and cause significant disruptions. But, unfortunately, authorities show no interest in, or care, for looted public infrastructure.


The whole east of Tshwane had no power. This affected the lives of countless people. Ford Motors, for example, reported that they lost 720 vehicles output a day due to the outage. Ultimately, this will harm production and the lives of many hard-working people.


The hope of there being any consequences for the vandals is scant. The South African Police Service has proved both too under-resourced, incompetent and corrupt to deal with crime. For example, we still do not know who gunned down rapper Kieran Jarryd, known as AKA, in February. The shooting was caught on camera in a busy street, and the police have made no progress.


South Africans also learned in the last week that the UAE released the masterminds of state capture, the Guptas. It emerged that this was because the South African government had failed to do what was necessary to secure extradition. Speculation is rife that it was not in the interests of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) to bring the Guptas back. Too many cadres would be implicated should they talk.


We have a President who refuses to come clean on his questionable dollar stash in a couch. Despite many calls for him to explain to the country what happened at his Phala Phala farm, Cyril Ramaphosa remains mute. So what is the man hiding? Or maybe he doesn’t care what the nation thinks.


Ramaphosa has shown the country, repeatedly, that he has lost any moral sense. Whether accounting for Phala Phala, dealing with corruption in his government, choosing people with good moral character to take on leadership positions, or making a principled stand on international affairs, Ramaphosa shows the same moral ineptitude as his predecessor. Our leaders represent the nation’s ailing physical and moral health. Our moral integrity has been “load shed” at a stage much higher than our Eskom stages.


The question has become: can we do anything to salvage ethical or moral integrity when even the dead cannot rest in peace?

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