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Zweli Mkhize should leave now or compromise fight against Covid-19 and corruption – experts

Health Minister Zweli Mkhize. | Reinhardt Hartzenberg KZN Office of the Premier SAPA

Health Minister Zweli Mkhize. | Reinhardt Hartzenberg KZN Office of the Premier SAPA

Published Jun 7, 2021


AS THE pressure mounts for Health Minister Zweli Mkhize to resign amid the Digital Vibes communications tender scandal, his supporters are believed to be hatching a plan to thwart his detractors.

With posters already circulating on social media at the weekend, Independent Media understands a full-blown fightback is expected should Mkhize be fired.

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Mkhize’s backers, who were with him ahead of the 2017 Nasrec conference, have already tested the waters with a “Hands Off Dr Mkhize” campaign to deter President Cyril Ramaphosa from acting against the former ANC treasurer-general.

Most of those who are behind the low-key campaign did not want to speak on the record about the matter yesterday but others have already indicated their stance.

ANC integrity commission chairperson George Mashamba, ANC national spokesperson Pule Mabe and acting secretary-general Jessie Duarte were not available to comment on Mkhize’s appearance before the Integrity Commission.

Mkhize is due to appear before the commission next week to answer to allegations made against him in the media.

He is also expected to explain the contradictory reply he gave to DA’s former health spokesperson Lindy Wilson when she asked about the awarding of the tender to Digital Vibes.

Wilson raised concern that the auditor-general had flagged the tender, but Mkhize in his reply said there was no irregularity in it.

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Meanwhile, the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) insists it is not dragging its feet and that its investigators are working hard to probe the decision by the national Department of Health to award a R150 million tender to Digital Vibes owned by Mkhize’s close allies.

SIU spokesperson Kaizer Kganyago yesterday said the matter was still under investigation but added: “We are fast-tracking the investigation.

“We promised to complete our investigation by the end of this month but we have to brief the president (Cyril Ramaphosa) first, especially about the Digital Vibes probe. We will have to brief him if there (is) any referral for disciplinary action to be taken. If our investigation finds any wrongdoing in the awarding of the tender, we will then approach the Tribunal Court for the cancellation of the contract and the recovery of the money.

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“If there is any criminality, we will then refer the matter to the Hawks and National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) for prosecution,” Kganyago said.

Digital Vibes was awarded the multimillion-rand contract for communications work.

The deal had initially focused on the National Health Insurance but was expanded last year to include Covid-19 work.

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The company is owned by Mkhize’s former private assistant, Tahera Mathera, and his former spokesperson, Naardhira Mitha.

Recent revelations in the media detailed how Digital Vibes paid for maintenance work at the Mkhize’s “family property” north of Joburg and the alleged transfer of money into the account of his son Dedani Mkhize’s company.

It was also revealed that Digital Vibes transferred R160 000 to a Pietermaritzburg car dealership in May 2020 for a 2003 Toyota Land Cruiser.

According to the reports, the car was then registered in Dedani Mkhize’s name. The car was also apparently used at a farm outside Pietermaritzburg which is owned by him.

These reports and allegations prompted DA health spokesperson Siviwe Gwarube to open a criminal case against Mkhize and the Health Department's director-general, Dr Sandile Buthelezi, last week.

Yesterday, Gwarube confirmed that the Cape Town police had given her a case number.

In opening the case, the DA alleged that Mkhize personally signed off on the submission that contained the contract, saying that was in direct contravention of the Prevention and Combating of Corrupt Activities Act (Pocca).

Experts in the Covid-19 and political studies field say Mkhize should leave his ministerial job now or compromise the epic fight against Covid-19 and corruption in the entire government sector.

Healthcare management specialist Professor Alex van den Heever, from Wits University, said Mkhize should leave now in order to save his face and the fight against Covid-19.

“I think retaining both the minister and the afflicted officials, when facing the Covid crisis, will worsen the crisis. The country needs leadership it can trust, and leaders who are not distracted by graft. Covid has been poorly managed and a new, more focused and competent team is needed. But it would let South Africa down to replace one set of bad apples with another similar set. The balls are clearly now in the president's court to get this right,” he said.

Political analyst Ralph Mathekga said Mkhize should leave with some of his dignity intact by resigning instead of being fired by Ramaphosa as per the call by opposition political parties.

“If Mkhize does not go, that will undermine the whole fight against corruption in other government departments. If in the ANC you can remove Ace and in government leave Mkhize but say you are fighting corruption, your position becomes untenable... The best thing would be for Mkhize to resign and leave gracefully,” Mathekga said.

Another political analyst, Professor Bheki Mngomezulu, from the University of the Western Cape, said the pressure on Mkhize to quit was immense and if he did not go on his own will, he would force Ramaphosa’s hand.

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Political Bureau