Former health minister Zweli Mkhize strikes back at SIU findings over Digital Vibes

Dr Zweli Mkhize. Picture: Bongiwe Mchunu

Dr Zweli Mkhize. Picture: Bongiwe Mchunu

Published Oct 19, 2021


DURBAN - A MASSIVE clash of the titans is looming between former Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize, the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) and President Cyril Ramaphosa over the government’s Digital Vibes scandal where Mkhize has accused both of having a predetermined conclusion about his alleged involvement in the embattled government contractor.

In court papers filed on Friday, October 15, at the North Gauteng High Court, Mkhize is seeking relief and has approached the court to review and set aside findings and recommendations made against him by the SIU. He has also sought to declare the conduct of the SIU unlawful and unconstitutional. This comes after the SIU investigated alleged irregularities in a tender contract awarded by the national Department of Health to Digital Vibes.

The contract was to conduct media awareness campaigns around the implementation of the National Health Insurance (NHI) and other health-related issues during the Covid-19 pandemic.

In SIU supplementary documents dated September 30 and filed in Pretoria, the SIU claimed that Mkhize had directly benefited from Digital Vibes transactions in that the company paid for electrical repair work at his homes.

It further claimed that Mkhize’s family and some of his close associates benefited from the tender and another contract worth R150 million.

In court papers obtained by the Daily News, Mkhize argues that the SIU’s findings were unfounded and unfair.

“The conclusions reached by the SIU, and its findings and recommendations against me, are tainted by stark irregularities in the manner in which it conducted its investigation, and in its approach to the evidence it gathered. These irregularities are both procedural and substantive in nature.”

“The SIU failed to address my version and evidence I provided to it – in most instances, such evidence was entirely ignored where it deviated from the SIU’s predetermined conclusions. While, for instance, I provided the SIU with a bundle of documents plus (without being required to do so) a detailed witness statement in advance of my questioning, I was given no notice of even the gist of fundamental matters on which I was questioned. Documents in the possession of the SIU were simply withheld so that I could be ambushed.”

Warming up to the legal battle, SIU spokesperson Kaizer Kganyago confirmed they had been served with court documents on Monday and were ready to defend their findings against Mkhize.

“The court documents we received are more than 800 pages; we are busy reading them, but we must make it clear that we will oppose the application in court,” Kganyago said.

In his affidavit, Mkhize dug into some of the SIU’s key findings and alleged that the unit, in its referral to President Cyril Ramaphosa, was markedly different from those put to him during its interrogation.

He claimed that the SIU failed to disclose allegations made against him by his subordinate, Dr Precious Matsoso, the former director-general (DG) of the Health Department, but relied heavily on those allegations in coming to adverse findings against him.

In the affidavit, Mkhize was adamant that the SIU did not allow him to respond to those allegations which formed the catalyst of its findings against him.

“The allegations are indeed demonstrably false, as other evidence corroborates, and appear to have been driven by the previous difficult relationship between myself and the former DG.”

Among other discrepancies Mkhize raised, he questioned the findings of the report stating that there were predetermined conclusions by the SIU way before the report was concluded.

Mkhize made further allegations, stating that the SIU told the media that it had provided its report to the president on June 30, 2021, the same day it received this new evidence.

“No doubt, as I have noted, when the SIU discloses the full record of decision, including the electronic record, this (or the records of the Presidency) will confirm that the report was already transmitted in the late afternoon or early evening. It is, with respect, impossible for the SIU to have considered the submissions or evidence. Impossibility aside, demonstrably the SIU did not give it due regard, as some of its findings in the referral letter and report have no regard to that evidence. This evinces that the SIU had already reached conclusions and findings against me: no matter what further evidence or submissions it received, it was not going to alter its report,” read Mkhize’s affidavit.

Mkhize further said that had his submissions and evidence been taken into account by the SIU, the organisation would have come to a different conclusion regarding his alleged involvement in the appointment of Digital Vibes.

Political analyst and author Kim Heller has warned of state institutions increasingly becoming weaponised as political factional wars intensify.

“The self-inflicted wounds of the political factions are now on display for all to see. The promise of renewal under the Ramaphosa administration has fallen on its sword as justice is applied unevenly and in a way that crucifies opponents and shields those close to the president. It is a crying shame, a dangerous precedent, and a signal of the state of decay.”

Echoing Heller, political analyst Professor Tumi Senokoane said that there was bias by the investigating units which appeared to favour some while crucifying others.

“There is a general problem of mistrust of state organs. Many politicians, especially seniors, know how they have manipulated organs and run to the courts for a review because they are aware of what happens.”

Contacted for comment, Digital Vibes attorney Sumenthren Pillay said he could not comment on the matter because he had not seen the documents.

The spokesperson for Ramaphosa, Tyrone Seale, said that the Presidency was aware of the matter, but had not been served with papers.

Daily News