Saturday 2 March 2019

Archbishop Thabo backs #Justice4Vernie campaign

A message recorded for the #Justice4Vernie rally held in St George's Cathedral, Cape Town, to honour the memory of Vernie Petersen, a former church worker and later a senior civil servant, whose stand against corruption before his untimely death has been highlighted at a commission of inquiry into government corruption. Below the full text of the message is the news release convening the rally, which gives more details.

Dear Friends, Family and Comrades of Vernie Petersen

On behalf of the Anglican Diocese of Cape Town and indeed of the whole church, it is my great privilege today to support the campaign for Justice for Vernie.

Many in the Diocese still remember Vernie's dedicated work for justice and liberation while working with the Diocese's Board of Social Responsibility during what I call the “Old Struggle” – the struggle against apartheid.

It's therefore with a sense of pride that we celebrate how Vernie went on after the advent of democracy to become an equally dedicated public servant, indeed by all accounts a model public servant, committed to the proposition that the people's money should be spent on the people's welfare, and not to enrich a few, no matter how admirable the role of those few may have been during the Old Struggle.

It is also with sadness that we acknowledge how Vernie came to be at odds with another former stalwart at the Board of Social Responsibility, in the person of Ngconde Balfour.  Now  I do not wish to rush to judgement – Ngconde has not yet had his opportunity to account at the Zondo Commission for his time as Minister of Correctional Services. But allow me just to note for the record the particular pain that we have all experienced in recent years, when we have seen too many comrades in the Old Struggle part ways as they have faced the difficult task of transitioning from fighting against the system to trying to transform it to serve all the people of South Africa.

This task, and the growth of the corruption and bad governance that have penetrated so deeply into the heart of our new democracy, constitute a call to all of us to re-dedicate ourselves to the noblest objectives of the struggle, in short to embark on what I call the New Struggle – the struggle to ensure that the sacrifices that so many made for our liberation are not wasted, the struggle against greed, corruption and nepotism, the struggle against the pursuit of narrow self-interest, personal gain, status and material wealth – in short the struggle for true justice, including economic justice, which will ensure that all, in the words of the Christian sacred text, “may have life and have it in abundance."

God bless you, God bless Vernie's family, and may we achieve #Justice4Vernie.

Campaign to honour late Vernie Petersen's brave stance on corruption

Friends and family of the late Correctional Services national commissioner Vernie Petersen have started a campaign to honour his memory and to give due recognition to his brave anti-corruption stance in the face of death threats to himself and his family.

The campaign, #Justice4Vernie, was started after the revelations at the Zondo Commission of Inquiry into state capture showed how Vernie was threatened by the Bosasa company to approve dodgy tenders.

Vernie tried in vain to ensure that the correct procedures were followed in re-advertising the food contract rather than being forced to extend the existing Bosasa contract.

Neither his colleagues in senior management nor then minister of correctional services Ngconde Balfour supported him.

After several clashes with Balfour and the senior management, Vernie was moved to the Department of Sport and Recreation.

In a letter of support to the state capture commission, #Justice4Vernie said the testimonies by former correctional services portfolio committee chair Dennis Bloem and Bosasa chief operations officer Angelo Agrizzi “reminded us of an awful period that Vernie and his family had to endure simply because he did the right thing”.

"He served our country and government with the utmost dignity and ethical behaviour, and should not have been vilified, victimised and subjected to death threats in the way that he had been”.

Vernie matriculated from Modderdam High School in 1977. He was an activist in Cape Town in the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s. He started his activism through youth and church associations that fought to end apartheid.

Vernie obtained a diploma in social work from UWC. Later he obtained an Honours and Master's in social science from UCT.

After the 1994 democratic elections, Vernie joined the public service, where he held several senior positions.

After being in hospital for a week, undergoing a routine procedure, he fell ill and died in Pretoria on Sunday.

He is survived by his widow June, sons Ruari and Dylan, and three grandchildren.

The organisers of the #Justice4Vernie campaign will hold a rally at St George’s Cathedral this Saturday, where speakers will reflect on Petersen’s life and legacy. The rally will start at noon.

Speakers will include former finance minister Trevor Manuel; former Cape Town mayor and ambassador Theresa Solomon; and Sithembiso Garane, son of the late Lennox Garane, who was a parliamentary officer at the time of his death.

There will also be tributes from Petersen’s June and son Ruari, and messages of support from, among others, former deputy chief justice Dikgang Moseneke and Anglican Archbishop Thabo Makgoba.

Bonita Bennett
#Justice4Vernie committee member

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