New Health Minister Dr Joe Phaahla File picture: Itumeleng English/African News Agency (ANA)
New Health Minister Dr Joe Phaahla File picture: Itumeleng English/African News Agency (ANA)

Activists hail Phaahla’s appointment as health minister, urge him to stabilise department

By Jonisayi Maromo Time of article published Aug 6, 2021

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Pretoria – Activist organisation the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) has welcomed the replacement of former health minister Zweli Mkhize with Joe Phaahla.

It urged Phaahla to stabilise the critical national department at a time South Africa is battling a raging Covid-19 pandemic.

“We welcome the appointment of Dr. Joe Phaahla as the new minister of health. He has extensive experience in the healthcare sector, having ably served as a deputy minister.

’’We call on him to bring stability to the department through radically improving the immunisation programme; setting up an internal anti-corruption unit that works together with law enforcement agencies; and addressing the dire human resources for health,” said Anele Yawa, the TAC general secretary.

“We thank the Special Investigative Unit (SIU) and other law enforcement agencies for diligently doing the spade work needed in order to unearth the mountains of evidence in the Digital Vibes case.”

The TAC welcomed the resignation of Mkhize from the Health Ministry after he was fingered in a multimillion-rand deal with communications firm Digital Vibes.

“We express our disappointment, having been quietly optimistic when he took over in 2019. We lament that it took as long as it did to effect this change, given the mountain of evidence and allegations against him and others implicated in the Digital Vibes saga,” said Yawa.

“It is shocking that at least a whopping R90 million in ’suspicious payments’ were made from the irregular R150 million tender contract.

’’Should this money not have been thought necessary for its stated purposes, it surely could have helped pay for life-saving drugs as part of buffer stock to provinces from the national department of health, as we have dire stock-outs of ARVs, contraceptives and vaccines for children. It could have also helped pay for additional community healthcare workers and nurses, given the shortages of staff.”

Sibongile Tshabalala, national chairperson of the TAC, said it was “unforgivable that a minister of Health could allegedly take R1 million meant for saving people’s lives and use it for the establishment of an upmarket salon, particularly during an unprecedented pandemic”.

The TAC called on law enforcement agencies in South Africa ensure that all irregular funds from the Digital Vibes communications contract are recouped, that there are consequences, including criminal prosecution, and for the ANC to show a zero-tolerance approach towards corruption by ensuring that Mkhize faces the Integrity Commission and possible expulsion from the party.

“Lastly, we also note and celebrate the resignation of Tito Mboweni as finance minister. We hope that the new minister, Enoch Godongwana, will desist from austerity budgeting and prioritise socio-economic rights.

’’We commit ourselves to taking part in the budget processes to highlight the need for adequate and effective funding for health,” the TAC said.

Following weeks of speculation, President Cyril Ramaphosa on Thursday night finally reshuffled his cabinet, bringing wholesale changes, particularly in the security cluster.

African News Agency (ANA)

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