Government faces R5bn suit after bribery scandal

Isaac Moledi

Isaac Moledi

Three condom suppliers, the South African Bureau of Standards, Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang and Finance Minister Trevor Manuel face a R5billion class-action lawsuit over defective condoms the Health Department distributed earlier this year.

Mathibela James Ramahuma and 49999 other unnamed plaintiffs are each demanding compensation of R100000.

The claims have been served on the Health Department, the Finance Department and the SABS, said Gilford Malatji, the attorney bringing the action.

The condom suppliers and manufacturers Zalatex, Latex Surgical Products and Kohrs Medical Suppliers appear on the summons as the first, second and third respondents.

The SABS appears as the fourth respondent.

Sowetan broke the story of the defective condoms in August. We reported then that an SABS inspector, Sphiwe Fikizolo, had been accused of taking bribes to pass defective condoms.

Fikizolo is named as the fifth respondent in the suit, the health minister as the sixth and the finance minister as the seventh.

Malatji told Sowetan yesterday that he had served the notices of the legal proceedings on the Bureau of Standards, and the departments of health and finance early this week.

He said the defendants have 30 days to respond to the Pretoria high court if they want to defend themselves against the lawsuit.

Zalatex, LSP and Kohrs would be served with papers before the end of this week, he said.

Ntando Ndonga, head of the bureau's legal department, said it would defend the action.

The gigantic lawsuit is a sequel to the scandal of defective condoms being passed by the SABS and unwittingly being distributed by the government in its campaign against Aids.

The empowerment company Zalatex and the condom manufacturer LSP were the first to be identified. But Kohrs was also later caught up in the scandal.

The SABS withdrew its certification mark from LSP and it was forced to close.

Fikizolo and two senior Zalatex bosses, chief executive Jeffrey Hurwitz and factory manager Sajeev Joseph, are out on bail after being charged in the bribery scandal.

Malatji said the lawsuit was being brought on behalf of "a class of persons who have used or are concerned that they may have used" defective government condoms between March last year and August this year.

The condoms were made by Latex Surgical Products (LSP) and Kohrs. Zalatex distributed the LSP condoms to the government in a BEE deal.

Malatji said Ramahuma need not have been infected with HIV to sue and insisted that his law firm did not "have to prove that any of our clients are HIV positive".

The claimants are demanding R50000 for general damages such as general shock, pain and suffering, discomfort and psychological injury, as well as R50000 in future medical expenses for counselling, psychotherapy and psychiatric treatment.

"The case is not that our clients were infected with HIV because of the defective condoms," he said.

"This is a class action for compensation for damages suffered as a result of the infringement of their rights," he said.

The summons claim that Zalatex supplied the Health Department with 76,5 million condoms and Kohrs 127,5 million.

The condoms were supposed to comply with the Health Department's Condom standard, based on the World Health Organisation's specification

More than seven million of the LSP condoms Zalatex distributed had failed to conform to the standards, the lawsuit claims.

Malatji specialises in class-action lawsuits. A previous case he brought against Gauteng on behalf of residents of Alexandra led to the establishment of Diepsloot, one of the largest townships in the province.