South Africa

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Ndabeni-Abrahams put on leave amid calls for criminal charges

Communications Minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams. Photo: Supplied

The president has placed Communications and Digital Technologies Minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams on special leave for two months, one without pay, for violating lockdown regulations. Now it’s time for the law to take its course.

There are growing calls for Communications and Digital Technologies Minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams  to be criminally charged and removed from Cabinet. This comes after President Cyril Ramaphosa put the minister on two months’ special leave after she was pictured having lunch at the home of former Deputy Higher Education and Training Minister Mduduzi Manana.

Minister in the Presidency Jackson Mthembu will act in her stead while she is on leave.

The lockdown regulations make it an offence to violate physical distancing guidelines and travel for non-essential purposes. Thousands of people have been arrested for violating the regulations as the police and army have been deployed across the country.

First-time offenders can be fined R1,500 for failing to confine themselves to their homes.

“None of us – not least a member of the national executive – should undermine our national effort to save lives in this very serious situation. I am satisfied that Minister Ndabeni-Abrahams appreciates the seriousness of what she has done and that no one is above the law,” said Ramaphosa in a statement on Wednesday.

The president’s spokesperson, Khusela Diko, said, “The president strongly believes that no one, including the minister, is above the law and therefore the law should be allowed to take its course. The minister must face the same consequences as everyone else in this country for violating the rules that have been set for all of us.”

Ramaphosa met with Ndabeni-Abrahams on Tuesday and instructed her to apologise.

“I regret the incident and I’m deeply sorry for my actions. I hope the president and you, South Africans, will find it in your hearts to forgive me,” said Ndabeni-Abrahams on Wednesday.

Manana, who resigned from Cabinet in 2017 after being charged with assault, claimed the minister visited his house to collect personal protective equipment (PPE) from his foundation for students working in Fourways, Johannesburg.

“On her arrival, my family was having lunch and I courteously invited her to join us,” Manana said in a statement.

In her apology, Ndabeni-Abrahams did not mention the supposed trip to collect PPE and the presidency said Ramaphosa “was unmoved by mitigating factors she tendered”.

ANC spokesperson Pule Mabe welcomed the sanction. “The message is clear, the lockdown is meant for all of us. Stay at home.”

The DA’s Phumzile Van Damme said the action “is better than nothing, and far more than we have come to expect of the governing party”.

“Should President Ramaphosa not lay the criminal complaint, he should at the very least address the nation together with the Minister of Police and the national police commissioner to assure the nation that SAPS will indeed act against Ndabeni-Abrahams,” she added.

The EFF said the sanction was a “slap on the wrist” and called for Ramaphosa to sack the minister from Cabinet.

“Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams must be removed from Cabinet if the integrity of this national lockdown is to be maintained and the rule of law is to be taken seriously,” said EFF spokesperson Vuyani Pambo.

“There is no logical explanation for her to be treated with kid gloves while the masses of our people are subjected to the full might of the law,” he added.

The IFP’s Zandile Majozi said, “Minister Ndabeni-Abrahams’s regrettable and irresponsible actions during the lockdown, which will now be met with harsh penalty, may serve as a lesson to all South Africans that no citizen should break the gazetted rules of the lockdown and that law enforcement will take its course.” DM

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