Digital Vibes ‘owner’ worked at a fuel station during R82m Department of Health Covid-19 contract
On paper, Radha Hariram was in charge of Digital Vibes, the shadowy communications firm that bagged lucrative contracts from two departments led by Dr Zweli Mkhize. But Hariram worked at a fuel station in her hometown in KZN for the greater part of the company’s existence, while two close associates of Mkhize seemingly ran Digital Vibes.
Radha Hariram (61), the principal director of Digital Vibes, filled cars and performed other duties at a fuel station in KwaZulu-Natal while her company delivered lucrative communications services for government departments led by Dr Zweli Mkhize.
Scorpio’s latest investigation casts doubt over whether Hariram was actually in charge of Digital Vibes. It has been alleged that Mkhize’s associates, and not Hariram, pulled the strings at the company.
Scorpio recently revealed that Mkhize’s long-serving personal spokesperson, Tahera Mather, and his former personal assistant, Naadhira Mitha, benefited from Digital Vibes’ contracts through consultancy gigs with the company.
Digital Vibes was appointed by the Department of Health (DoH) in late 2019 to work on a communications plan for the National Health Insurance (NHI), but its scope of work was later extended to include Covid-19. It now sits with emergency procurement orders worth R82-million.
Before that, Digital Vibes won a R3.9-million contract from the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (Cogta) when Mkhize led the department in 2018.
Hariram, speaking through her lawyer, has strongly denied that she acted as a front for third parties.
Scorpio learnt from several well-placed sources that Hariram played little or no role in Digital Vibes’ most recent contract from the DoH. We were told that department officials thought Mather and Mitha ran the company.
We asked Hariram’s lawyer, Sumenthren Pillay, why key DoH officials familiar with the Digital Vibes contract had never heard of his client until Scorpio’s first exposé.
“Is it a law or rule that a director of a company must work with or have personal interactions with their clients or customers? Probably most of Checkers and Pep stores staff do not know who Christo Wiese is or how he looks,” countered Pillay.
Hariram was asked if she could present any documentation affirming her role as Digital Vibes’ principal director, such as the proposal or bid documents the company would have submitted for the DoH contract.
We didn’t get the documents, while her lawyer responded as follows:
“Digital Vibes staff did the bid and the administration to compile and submit, Radha [Hariram] signed what was necessary. Radha is a director of the company.”
We also learnt that Hariram was rarely, if ever, seen at the offices that Digital Vibes occupied in Houghton, Johannesburg throughout 2020, while it worked on the NHI and Covid-19 projects.
“Almost the entire working world worked from home for most of the year 2020 for reasons that everyone knows. Radha was no different. Therefore your deduction that Radha not working from the office meant that she was not in control is feeble and hereby denied,” stated Pillay.
But Hariram would have found it difficult to be at Digital Vibes’ Johannesburg offices, regardless of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Scorpio established that Hariram worked at a Shell service station in Stanger as a full-time employee when both the Cogta and DoH contracts were awarded to Digital Vibes.
She resigned from her full-time position at the end of 2019 but continued working at the service station as a part-time worker until the end of 2020.
In other words, Hariram filled cars and performed her other duties at the fuel station in Stanger while her company was busy securing DoH orders worth R82-million from its office in Johannesburg.
“Radha was an operations/forecourt manager at the said Shell, and this can be easily verified,” Pillay confirmed.
“During 2020 Radha only went back to the Shell to assist on a part-time basis,” he added.
But she was a full-time employee at the service station when Digital Vibes won and worked on the Cogta contract in 2018. We wondered how she managed to juggle the two responsibilities.
“Radha was not needed on a full-time basis for this contract. She had consultants to [do] the work. Please do not forget that Radha is a director, and she did not have any obligation to do any work (like an employee) for Digital Vibes,” explained her lawyer.
Before her time at the service station, Hariram worked “at the bank in Stanger for 30 years and almost everyone knew her, including Mather”, added Pillay.
This seems to confirm that Hariram does not have a background in the communications industry, as we reported in our first story.
Pillay and his client don’t view this as a problem.
“Is it also necessary for a director of a company to have a personal background in respect of the business the company conducts? This is ridiculous at best,” stated Pillay.
“Christo Wiese (surely you know of him) is a lawyer with background [sic] in the legal field, yet he owns grocery and clothing outlets like PEP Stores and Checkers.”
Pillay took exception to our view that Digital Vibes was a shadowy company with no track record or visible footprint.
“Many small Black companies do not have websites, operate from a home office and albeit quite ‘new’ have Government tenders. Investigate this,” reads Pillay’s response.
“Tahera Mather and Radha grew up in Stanger and knew each other from the small town of Stanger,” added Pillay.
He said his client was not close to Mkhize: “Radha does not have any form of relationship or friendship or acquaintance with Doctor Mkhize.”
He insisted that Hariram did not run Digital Vibes on behalf of any third parties.
“[Hariram] is a director of Digitals Vibes [sic] and not a front for anyone,” he stated.
Gone to ground
Scorpio sought to obtain further clarity from Mather and Mitha regarding their involvement with Hariram and Digital Vibes, but they appear to have gone to ground.
They are no longer taking our phone calls and won’t respond to text messages and emails.
The DoH says it has appointed a forensic investigator to probe the matter. The Special Investigating Unit (SIU) is also looking at the contract.
During a recent appearance at the National Council of Provinces, Mkhize welcomed the SIU’s involvement and vowed to release the findings of the DoH’s own investigation.
“This is part of the commitment we made that allegations of any form of corruption made must be investigated,” said Mkhize.
“Because these allegations have raised public interest, we do commit that the outcomes of the investigation will be accordingly reported to the public,” explained Mkhize.
Scorpio has asked the DoH for the name of the forensic investigator appointed by the department, but it has so far refused to share this detail.
“In so far as the investigation is concerned, all details have been given to the SIU including the details of the investigators appointed by the Department,” said DoH spokesperson Popo Maja.
“As previously communicated, we have been advised against engaging in details with the media or the public on an ongoing investigation as this may jeopardise the work of the investigators,” explained Maja. DM