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Zweli Mkhize must take full responsibility for Digital Vibes debacle

Health Minister Zweli Mkhize has been placed firmly at the centre of the R150m Digital Vibes contract scandal. File picture: Itumeleng English/African News Agency (ANA)

Health Minister Zweli Mkhize has been placed firmly at the centre of the R150m Digital Vibes contract scandal. File picture: Itumeleng English/African News Agency (ANA)

Published Jun 1, 2021


By Marlan Padayachee

Durban: During the colourful pomp and ceremony decked out to visiting French President Emmanuel Macron, his host President Cyril Ramaphosa paraded his Cabinet ministers – including his under-fire Health Minister Dr Zweli Lawrence Mkhize, who side-stepped being quizzed by the media about how his close comrades and friends picked up a whopping R150-million Covid-19 and National Health Insurance irregular procurement deal.

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The European Union leader was at the Union Buildings last week, to also discuss, among major bilateral deals, the Paris-Pretoria protocol on how France could help SA and Africa get out of the vaccine shortage cul-de-sac.

As France and SA discussed global responses to the Covid-19 linked challenges of the economic, health, research, manufacturing challenges, and vaccine nationalism, and temporary waiver of patents and copyrights in the manufacture of the vaccine, the World Health Organization reported that the coronavirus had claimed 3,540,437 lives, and 170-million people have been infected and 1,579,416,705 were immunised with vaccine doses.

As the high-profile line minister in charge of the nation’s 55-million population’s health safety and security and vaccination roll-out service delivery, ZL Mkhize, once the toast of politics in his hometown of Pietermaritzburg, has been pushed into a tight corner over his close links to Tahera Mather and Naadira Mitha, directors of Digital Vibes, an obscure communications and public relations agency from KwaZulu-Natal. The pair was based at Luthuli House during Mkhize’s time as ANC treasurer-general.

A posse of politically connected ‘’friends and comrades’’ – as admitted by the minister and tenderpreneurs who assisted him pro-bono in his presidential campaign in 2017 – only to be handed a quid-pro-quo of R150-million from the Department of Health and overseas junkets.

This close-knit cabal had previously received millions of rand from the Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs under Mkhize.

The latest revelations also places the minister’s wife, also a medical doctor, May Mkhize, at the heart of this burning issue, in which there are allegations backed by transactions documents that Digital Vibes apparently paid an electrical contractor R7 000 for repair work to the couple’s posh home in Bryanston, Johannesburg, and bankrolled their son to the tune of R300 000.

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Despite a grim picture of Covid-19 jobs bloodbaths, with workers losing homes, goods, vehicles through salary cutbacks, and suffering from emotional and mental stress, the minister’s DoH forked out millions to KZN’s Digital Vibes, said to have direct links to Mkhize and ANC Luthuli House.

Mkhize has admitted that his DoH’s dealings with Digital Vibes involving multi-million rand tenders were irregular.

The Special Investigating Unit (SIU) is to release its probe into the matter – now at an advanced stage in June.

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Lawson Naidoo, executive secretary of the Council for the Advancement of the Constitution (Casac) – SA’s constitutional watchdog, says the probe has to be dealt with urgently: ‘’I think this will send a very, very strong signal to South African public that this is a serious matter and the issue of integrity of the State and how serious we are about fighting corruption.

‘’We are going to get a report from the Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo in the next few months about outlining what happened during the state capture hearing. If we are unable to deal with the issues that are staring us in the face like this, is there any hope that the recommendations from the Zondo Commission will actually come before the truth?’’

Media strategist Chris Vick believes Mkhize was not alone in these tender controversies that involve other ministers: ‘’The ANC does not have a culture of firing ministers. It is like a Mexican stand-off, everyone is pointing pistols at each other.’’

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Since the1980s Mkhize moved up the political rungs as an accomplished political practitioner; KZN’s hands-on health MEC, provincial prime minister, national minister of Cogta and Health, ANC Treasurer-General and presidential candidate hopeful.

When the lid was lifted on how the DoH coughed up millions of rand to Mather and her side-kicks, it took an organogram posted widely on social media platforms – that names and traces the players and entities that benefited and received kickbacks from the irregular tenders and procurement of services for Covid-19 and the National Health Insurance (NHI) publicity campaigns – to break the camel’s back.

  • Composit Trade and Investments 02: R35m
  • Mateta Projects, Mdu and Makhosana Mathethwa: R10,5m
  • Royal Bhaca Projects, King Thandiszwe: R1m
  • Strategeewhizz: R15m
  • Naadira Mitha Media Solutions: R500 000
  • WT Graphics and Designs: R7m
  • Wasim Mather: R350 000
  • Suhaila Mather Consulting: R1,2m
  • Suhaila Mather: R280 000
  • Hasina Kathrada Communications: R1m
  • Shiraz Hoosen and Signet Health Consultants: R1,2m
  • Luxury clothes, overseas holiday, home renovations etc: R1,5m
  • Cash from ATMS and bank tellers: R430 000
  • Other suspicious 3rd party recipients, including Mkokwana Events: R15m.

* Marlan Padayachee is a seasoned journalist and columnist who heads a media-communications-political strategy, publicity and research agency.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL.