OBITUARY | Kimi Makwetu: A dedicated and diligent Auditor-General

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Auditor-General Kimi Makwetu. (Jan Gerber, News24)
Auditor-General Kimi Makwetu. (Jan Gerber, News24)
  • Auditor-General Kimi Makwetu was about to hand over the reins to his deputy, Tsakani Maluleke.
  • He had been battling lung cancer for the past two years, but still fulfilled his duties.
  • Makwetu was finalising reports including one into Covid-19 corruption at the time of his death. 

Thembekile Kimi Makwetu had only two weeks left in his position before handing over the baton of the office of the Auditor-General to his deputy Tsakani Maluleke.

He was knee-deep in finalising reports, which included a comprehensive report into Covid-19 corruption, in anticipation of his last day in office on 30 November. 

On 11 November, he, instead, took his last breath, aged 54. 

For two years, Makwetu had been battling stage four lung cancer, yet he still fulfilled the duties of his office with diligence. 

Two weeks ago, all political parties found rare consensus in celebrating Makwetu and acknowledging the great work he had done.

The DA noted his "honourable service to the people of South Africa", while the EFF said he served the country with dignity even during difficult times and the IFP noted that he was an ambassador for good governance.

Thirteen year stint 

The Cape Town-born chartered accountant had been at the helm of the Auditor-General of South Africa (AGSA) for the past 13 years, first as deputy auditor-general to Terrence Nombembe and then taking over the office. 

Makwetu had seen it all as the custodian of how public funds are used. Every year his reports contain shocking findings of fruitless, wasteful and irregular expenditure on all levels of the state. 

In September, he gave an account of how a bad situation was made worse in public finance when he detailed how R147.4 billion was misappropriated from the emergency budget during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

He described his office's findings as "frightening" as he detailed how public funds were abused from April to July 2020. 

"A lot of the effort that we put into this on the detection side of things has revealed a number of frightening findings that require to be followed up very quickly so that there is no significant passage of time before the required actions are implemented," Makwetu said at the time. 

For him, finding the problems after the fact was not good enough. He was hellbent in creating systems that would preempt the misuse of state funds. 

He famously championed for the Public Audit Amendment Act which gave him as AG the power to refer irregularities for further investigation and to launch a process to recover lost funds. The law was adopted in 2018 and was described as a means to turn the office of the AG from a chihuahua to a pitbull.

On reflecting on this. Makwetu recently said: 

"Year in and out, the outcomes deteriorated and we couldn't keep watching this happen. Accounting officers now know that if they do not address the oversight issues it will hit them in their own pocket. It is using the law with a bit of persuasion."

Known for his soft demeanour, Makwetu held a a Social Sciences degree from the University of Cape Town, receiving a BCompt Honours degree from the University of Natal and was a qualified chartered accountant.

His career began at Standard Bank and he went on to work at Nampak.

Makwetu completed his articles at Deloitte where he progressed to senior management before joining Liberty and Metropolitan Life in Cape Town and later in Johannesburg. 

Before he joined the AG's office, he was at Deloitte as a director in the firm's forensic unit.

During his seven years as the AG, Makwetu steered clear of the spotlight, opting instead for his work to speak for itself. 

When asked about this by the Mail & Guardian, he responded: 

"I have told my team that I do not want to be like Michael Jackson, to the point where every channel people turn to, there I am. Remember when that song came out, he was on every channel, singing bede bede [beat it, beat it]. I don’t want to be that person. I would rather deliver my reports and go back into the shadows and do my work. There is a lot of it."

Makwetu delivered his often grim reports with astute professionalism. Despite the rot he exposed year in and year out, he did not allow his frustration to overtake his optimism. 

He believed that the groundwork was done and the legacy of his efforts would be felt in years to come. 

Makwetu is survived by his wife and three kids. 

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