The health minister's future in government looks increasingly tenuous, with speculation his presidential ambitions may also be catching up with him now.
Amid the increasing pressure on Health Minister Zweli Mkhize in the wake of a controversial R150 million communications contract his department dished out to his associates’ company Digital Vibes, his failure to appear before the ANC’s integrity committee has now also been questioned.
The committee expressed some supposed surprise this week that it was yet to see Mkhize, who may now only appear this week or next, and a report in City Press on Sunday reflected on the fact that Mkhize had actually formed part of the ANC national executive committee team that had drafted the terms of reference for the integrity committee.
An ANC insider said it was “not clear” why Mkhize was now not complying with rules he’d once helped to draw up.
It was not the only committee he stood up this week, either.
Mkhize was also supposed to appear before the health committee in parliament on Friday, but failed to do so, citing legal advice that while the corruption matter is being investigated by the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) and possibly the police, he considered it sub judice.
Opposition MPs were furious, but the ANC contingent on the committee backed Mkhize’s decision.
When the health budget vote came up several hours later, tempers in the opposition benches had hardly cooled down.
DA MP Siviwe Gwarube said: “One of the greatest injustices of our time is the fact that we have an albatross around our necks: the ANC government. It is stacked to the rafters with thieves, looters and cheats and people too selfish to spare a thought for those who elected them. During the world’s deadliest pandemic, South Africa’s government leaders decided that it is their time to eat.”
She said the SIU had confirmed that more than R14 billion in Covid-19 corruption was being investigated, and that it was the worst wave of corruption they had ever seen.
EFF MP Suzan Thembekwayo said her party “harshly condemns” Ramaphosa, Mkhize and the entire executive for “preserving themselves and their reputation at the cost of our people”.
Thembekwayo said Mkhize “claims to be in the know about everything, except the corruption”. She called on Mkhize to step down.
Ramaphosa on Thursday told journalists that he was dealing with the Digital Vibes matter and that it would not be swept under the carpet.
ANC insiders have said that if Mkhize does not step down and Ramaphosa does not fire him directly, Mkhize may merely be reshuffled out of Cabinet in a few weeks, in a move that analysts say may lower competition for the top spot for Ramaphosa when he stands for re-election in the ANC next year.
Mkhize ran a very unsuccessful campaign to become ANC president in 2017.
Digital Vibes purchased a second-hand Toyota Land Cruiser for Health Minister Zweli Mkhize’s son around the same time the Department of Health transferred about R50 million to the company for its services.
This was according to a report by the Daily Maverick‘s investigative unit, Scorpio, which revealed that around the same time Digital Vibes was paid by the department for services related to the National Health Insurance and Covid-19 communications efforts, a 2003 Toyota Land Cruiser was bought by the company and registered in Dedani Mkhize’s name.
The car was valued at R160,000 and purchased in May 2020. It is said to be in use at Dedani’s farm outside Pietermaritzburg.
According to the Daily Maverick, payment for the car and R300,000 was transferred to his company, All Out Trading, on the same day.
It is alleged Digital Vibes is controlled by Mkhize’s former aide, Tahera Mather, and his former personal assistant, Naadhira Mitha, though the two are not listed as directors.
The Daily Maverick said when it contacted Dedani, he said the car belonged to his farm manager and was a gift from Mather with whom he had a close relationship.
“My dealings with her are not business, they are just fun and leisure. I promised her I’ll keep this a secret coz [sic] she always says she’s scared of comrade Khabazela [Zweli Mkhize].
“Now this thing is messing up my life coz [sic], now T [Mather] does not respond to me coz [sic] you guys are chasing her,” he told the publication.
Digital Vibes is currently the subject of an investigation by the SIU, which it said was at an advanced stage.
Its head, advocate Andy Mothibi, told the South African National Editors’ Forum, at a briefing last week, the SIU would be making an announcement in the coming weeks.
He said the SIU did not want to “cut corners” but wanted to ensure the findings were backed by “solid evidence”.
On Wednesday, Mkhize said the department’s investigation found the tender bidding process followed was in contravention of the Public Finance Management Act.
He denied benefiting from the Digital Vibes contract and that Mather and Mitha were his friends.
By Citizen reporter - Compiled by Charles Cilliers
Background reporting: News24 Wire
For more info see: https://citizen.co.za