A group of people have come together under the hashtag #Justice4Vernie in support of a call to the state capture commission of inquiry chairperson to probe the death of former correctional services commissioner Vernie Petersen.
Cope spokesperson and former ANC MP Dennis Bloem testified last week and asked the commission’s chairperson, Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, to investigate Petersen’s “sudden and unexplained” death.
He testified that Petersen tried to clean up the department and “hated” corruption, but he was suddenly moved to the Department of Sport and Recreation after only a year at correctional services. He died in 2011.
Bloem and former Bosasa COO Angelo Agrizzi gave damning testimony before the commission over the last few weeks.
The #Justice4Vernie group, which comprises Petersen’s friends, family members and comrades, said the evidence given by Agrizzi and Bloem reminded them of an “awful” period that Petersen and his family endured during his time at the department.
“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,” the group said in a joint statement.
They reiterated Bloem’s call to have Petersen’s death probed, saying he was not daunted by the many challenges he faced at the department.
The group said Petersen was not overwhelmed as the commissioner but was frustrated by senior management in the department who undermined his efforts.
The initiative was about correcting the wrong, restoring accountability and building a state that worked to fulfil all clauses enshrined in the Constitution of South Africa, the group said.
“It is an initiative that seeks to assist public servants in a constructive way to live up to the prescripts of the Constitution. We are assured that you can align yourself fully with this objective,” they added.
The group’s members met Petersen during the late 1970s and 1980s through youth and church associations that fought to end apartheid.
Two of its members were in the 1977 matric class with Petersen at Modderdam High School in Cape Town.
The group added that Petersen’s family had endorsed the #Justice4Vernie initiative and future plans to preserve his legacy.
“In light of the context of this statement, we wish to express our utmost support to you and the commission that you lead. We further call on you to ensure that the circumstances surrounding Vernie’s death be fully investigated,” they said.