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Stella-Ndabeni-Abrahams becomes first minister to be suspended in democratic era

Communications Minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams. Picture: Ayanda Ndamane/African News Agency(ANA)

Communications Minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams. Picture: Ayanda Ndamane/African News Agency(ANA)

Published Apr 8, 2020


Durban - Suspended Communications Minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams will go down in history books as the first cabinet minister in a democratic South Africa to be suspended from office for a transgression.

There is no records of a cabinet minister being suspended since 1994, although many have been fired or resigned for various transgressions.

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On Wednesday, President Cyril Ramaphosa decided to place the minister on a two-month special leave after she admitted to breaking Covid-19 lockdown regulations by visiting convicted woman beater, former deputy Mduduzi Manana at his Johannesburg home. They posed for a picture, which Manana uploaded on social media, leading to a barrage of criticism against the two senior ANC members. 

Political analyst Ralph Mathekga said Ndabeni-Abrahams suspended was unprecedented becaise in the past presidents had resisted acting against their cabinet members. Mathekga said Ramaphosa may have taken this decision in order to clear his desk so that he can focus on the Covid-19 fight instead of focusing on firing ministers.

"To be honest with you, I am not aware of a minister who was suspended, a minister who suspended without going to court... This is the best that the president can do, it is politically unprecedented. I remember that post-1994 there were controversial ministers like (late) Sicelo Shiceka. But in most cases, it was not transgressions that would lead to firing but it was the court getting involved or other agencies until it became untenable for the political principals to protect them," Mathekga said.

He lamented that local politicians, unlike their counterparts in matured democracies, still believe that an apology is enough when one has been caught with their pants down, instead of resigning.

Another political analyst, Protas Madlala, said there had been no minister that was ever placed on suspension since 1994 and this was the first case he had heard of. 

He, however, said Ramaphosa's hand was forced in this case as he did not want to be seen to be lenient on lockdown violations, while facing one of the biggest battles of his presidency.

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"He would have become a joke and everyone would have taken to the streets to walk freely in violation of the lockdown rules. So he had to act so that people could not ask who should be disciplined and who should no. Honestly speaking, he was between a rock and a hard place, he had no choice but to act against the minister. I also think that the president is very concerned with this Covid-19 outbreak, so the violation puts his leadership to the test," Madlala said.

While unprecedented, political analyst, Thabani Khumalo said this was a "balancing act" as Ramaphosa did not want to be harsh on people that supported his rise to the presidency while at the same disarming his opponents.

"I think Ramapahosa will deal with the matter later when the country is back to normal. Ndabeni-Abrahams could still be fired later when there is a cabinet reshuffle," Khumalo said.

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Political Bureau 

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