Wendy and Babita: What has become of us?


Wendy and Babita: What has become of us?

Wendy Hendricks Kloppers, who was assassinated on a City of Cape Town building site last week, deserves to be more than a statistic, says ANNELIESE BURGESS. Like everyone else who has become fair game for rapacious mafias who want to be paid kickbacks and protection money on construction sites across the country. We are called upon to put the humanity back into the appalling statistics of assassinations in South Africa.


Wendy Hendricks Kloppers’ Facebook cover is a sparkly pink banner with a Bible verse from the book of Isaiah: “No weapon formed against you will prosper.”

Wendy Kloppers was assassinated last week at the entrance to a City of Cape Town building site in Delft. Shot, point blank, through the windscreen of her white BMW. It was just before 11 in the morning. She was speaking to a security guard when two men got out of a white Polo parked on the kerb. They casually walked up to Wendy's car and emptied a magazine through the windscreen. Wendy died in the hail of bullets. The security guard, also a woman, was shot in the arm.

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Wendy was a mother to two sons. One is in matric, the other only 10. A baby. Both will have to find their way in the world without their mother.

I am tortured by her story. Yet another innocent, law-abiding citizen mowed down by criminals.

Wendy was an inspector for the environmental affairs department — not a big fish or an “important” person who called any shots. She was just a diligent municipal official with 25 years' service doing her job. In this case, it was a routine site visit to check air quality levels at one of the city’s most ambitious developments, where 3,300 low-cost houses are being built for some of the most vulnerable citizens.

It’s a small world. Wendy and I have shared friends on Facebook. Christo van der Rheede is the CEO of AgriSA. He knew her well. In fact, he was her teacher in high school. He almost doesn’t have the words to describe his shock at how she was taken from this world. His voice note to me vibrates with the same outrage I feel.


In August 2021, another woman (and another mother) was shot to shut her up. Her name was Babita Deokaran. She was the head of finance at Gauteng’s department of health and was shot in the driveway of her modest townhouse complex in the south of Joburg.

At the time, we did not know the true extent of the rupturing nest of corruption and theft she had uncovered — and for which we now know she was killed. The forensic reportage about the reasons behind what was obviously a hit was devoid of any reference to the human being.

Maybe it was because Babita was the same age as I was. Maybe it was because she had only one child, like me. And that her daughter was 16, like mine was. Or maybe it was the slightly out-of-focus photograph of a stern-looking woman that kept appearing in the media that wouldn't let me out of its grip.

I tried to decode the photographs of her to fathom something of the woman, the mother, the committed public servant. Something that would colour the tragedy with her humanity.

In one picture, we see a woman, attired in a conservative navy top, behind a desk. Behind her, we see files neatly arrayed in a typical government office. Dark furniture, a black leather chair. I notice how incredibly tidy everything around her is. It speaks of someone who pays attention to detail and who likes order — something we now know Babita had in spades because it was this very characteristic that allowed her to uncover the fishy money trail to thieves bleeding the department dry with crooked contracts.

Then there is a happier picture with a 50th birthday balloon. There is a slight smile on her face. A slick of lipstick and a bindi on her forehead. Bindis are decorative dots that women of Indian descent have to indicate their marital status, and they are worn on the place where Hindus believe the third eye resides. A bindi has a complex set of meanings, but one is that it helps to protect you against misfortune.

The “misfortune" arrived for Babita in a white BMW as she returned just after eight from dropping her daughter at school. The murderers fired 12 shots into her car as she waited for the electronic gates of her residential complex to open.

What we know today is that the people who killed Babita were contract killers.



Wendy's family and friends are still too distraught to want to comment.  So, as with Babita, I turn to the images of herself Wendy put into the world to try to divine something of the person she was. The many Biblical references on her Facebook page attest to her being a committed Christian. There is something particularly poignant about a photograph of her smiling face circled by a wreath of words saying “Faith over fear", interspersed with red hearts. The words feel almost prophetic.


There is one with a small child sitting in the sand. I wonder if this is one of her sons when they were smaller, or maybe a nephew or niece? What it tells us is that Wendy was a family person. There are others of her in a coffee shop, drinking wine in a restaurant, and one in which she looks particularly happy on a beach, wearing a yellow hoodie and Converse sneakers, smiling brightly into the camera. 

In the most poignant of her Facebook posts, she talks about her love for her children. “To my children ... If I had to choose between loving you and breathing … I would use my last breath to tell you … I love you."

It breaks my heart. And it enrages me.

Wendy was shot on this piece of sand in front of the gate.
Wendy was shot on this piece of sand in front of the gate.

The scene of the crime

I am taken to the scene of Wendy's murder by an armed escort of the city's safety and security investigative unit (SSIU). I want to stand in the place where she was killed. I feel I owe it to her to reconstruct what happened to her that day.

As the two SSIU vehicles wind their way along the N2, the radio crackles in the lead vehicle. There has been another shooting at Power Construction’s N2 Gateway site, bringing the number of people who have been shot here to six in the past two weeks. Six people. One site.

Three construction workers. One petrol bomb attack. Wendy's killing. The security guard wounded in Wendy's assassination. And then today's shooting (although this has not been confirmed).

The DA chairperson of the Western Cape legislature's human settlements committee, Matlhodi Maseko, recently confirmed 14 cases of housing extortion in the metro and said about 10 people had been killed at construction sites in the past few months.

The mayoral committee member for human settlements, Malusi Booi, has said the city faces extortion, criminality, vandalism, community unrest and unlawful occupation at 12 housing projects across the metro, affecting about 4,500 houses that are being built. “Projects amounting to about R1-billion are currently at risk," he said recently.

The open field to the left of the murder scene and the little church behind.
The open field to the left of the murder scene and the little church behind.

I arrive at the place where Wendy's car was standing while she talked to the security guard to gain access to the site. Behind me is a small church. In front of me is the shade cloth-covered gate leading to the site office, to the left a desolate sandy expanse where the city is trying to build 3,300 houses.

After the assassins killed Wendy and wounded the security guard, Wendy's car rolled forward and crashed with some force through the gate at the opposite side of the site. The twisted metal of that gate has been fashioned back into some semblance of a barrier.

An entry in the site's logbook in spindly, slightly illegible red handwritten letters outlines what happened. It is matter-of-fact — on this day, at this time, et cetera. Except that a vibrant women's life was snuffed out between the building supplies and rubbish-strewn sand on the Cape Flats. For nothing. It now seems Wendy might not have even been the intended target. That the real target might have been the site manager, also a woman driving a white car.

The building site.
The building site.

The deep tentacles

The so-called construction mafia phenomenon first reared its ugly head in KwaZulu-Natal, but over the past few years it has spread across the country. Whereas in its earliest incarnation, it was about forcing contractors to use local labour, it has now morphed into full-scale extortion with demands by powerful gangs for kickbacks and protection money to be paid in return for being allowed to build. And it has become a deadly game.

In a recent interview with 702, Roy Mnisi, the executive director of Master Builders South Africa, said the construction industry was being held to ransom.

“This is not an issue isolated to Cape Town," he said. “It’s happening everywhere in the country, in all nine provinces, and the issue is worse in provinces with a higher number of infrastructure projects in metropolitan areas, although remote and rural areas are also affected.”

In another interview, Webster Mfebe, CEO of the South African Forum of Civil Engineering Contractors, said it is now commonplace for these so-called “mafias” to “go to sites with guns to intimidate site managers and demand a stake in a project, and if they refuse there are consequences”. 

Mfebe says the situation has spiraled out of control because of limp-wristed law enforcement. “People do not fear the law,” he says. “When reporting to the police, oftentimes nothing is done, and contractors are told to sort the problem out themselves. How do you expect contractors to sort something out with people that want to kill you?”

I spent a day with Cape Town mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis last week, and when I asked him what single issue keeps him awake at night, he shot back immediately with “the construction mafia”.

Hill-Lewis told me: “Almost no project we undertake is not under threat of delay. Not housing, not a sewer, not a bridge. And it's no longer about insisting on local labour, it's brazen extortion. And they are becoming more and more violent. Sixteen years ago, when Helen Zille was the mayor, she made all the bid adjudication committee meetings open to the public for transparency. We are now at the point where we are going to have to consider closing those meetings again because these criminals can see who is making decisions and can target people. Isn't that just a terrible reflection on what is happening in our country?"

Different tentacles of the same deadly beast killed Babita and Wendy. Their light was snuffed out by the forces of darkness who have the same objective: to keep criminals fat on ill-gotten gains. Theft, corruption and extortion follow. And no one is safe any more, not even an environmental quality controller. Wendy, may the R1-million reward posted by an anonymous businessmen smoke out the lily-livered killers who snuffed out your life.

The shame that we have reached this place in our country should keep not only the mayor awake. It should keep us all awake. Rest in peace Wendy. Rest in peace Babita. And #voetsekmafia. 

♦ VWB ♦

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