DM168 REFLECTION

You must fire Minister Zweli Mkhize to maintain your integrity, Mr President

By Sibusiso Ngalwa 5 June 2021

Minister of Health Dr Zweli Mkhize. (Photos: Gallo Images / Darren Stewart)

Cyril Ramaphosa is being watched on how he is dealing with Zweli Mkhize, the embattled health minister who is mired in the controversial and seemingly corrupt R150-million Digital Vibes contract.

Sibusiso Ngalwa

First published in the Daily Maverick 168 weekly newspaper.

The re-emergence of former president Thabo Mbeki from his political hibernation created a buzz that gave the media and analysts much to pore over during the past week.

Speaking at the ANC provincial executive committee meeting in East London on 31 May, Mbeki spoke at length about ANC renewal while also reminding the attendees that the party had not dealt with the endemic problem that it had identified two decades ago.

Quoting a speech made by the late Nelson Mandela at the ANC’s 50th Congress in Mahikeng in December 1997, Mbeki warned of careerists within the party who see the ANC as merely a platform to advance their political fortunes and gain access to state resources. Mandela said “we [the ANC] have also been faced with various instances of corruption involving our own members, including those who occupy positions of authority”.

Reading this statement one would be forgiven for thinking these words were uttered in the recent past. President Cyril Ramaphosa has been banging the “ANC renewal” drum for a while now.Two important points can be deduced from the events of this past week. One is that there is no realistic hope for an ANC renewal as things stand.

Mandela’s comments from 23 years ago ring true for the ANC today. All the successive ANC conferences since Mahikeng have bemoaned the “new culture” of self-enrichment by the leaders and the deep-rooted corruption within the party. Yet it remains till today.

The second point is that Ramaphosa will not be judged on what he says but rather on his actions. This becomes ever so important as he now faces a difficult period in which some of his strongest allies are either implicated in acts of corruption or are alleged to have used their positions to advance their personal interests.

Ramaphosa is being watched on how he is dealing with Zweli Mkhize, the embattled health minister who is mired in the controversial and seemingly corrupt R150-million Digital Vibes contract. The contract was handed to the minister’s close allies and some of that money found its way back to Mkhize’s family members.

Also, the country’s much-needed Risk Mitigating Independent Power Producers Procurement Programme – aimed at bringing additional electricity capacity to our ailing Eskom grid – is in jeopardy owing to the court action brought by one of the losing bidders in the programme. Allegations of collusion between senior officials in the Department of Energy and a political fixer with links to Minister Gwede Mantashe have been made.

The president has to be seen to be taking these allegations seriously.Speaking in Parliament during the Presidency’s budget vote on 2 June, the president said he was disturbed by the allegations against Mkhize and was awaiting the conclusion of the investigation by the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) on the matter.

During a press conference in Parliament on 3 June, I asked the president if he was not concerned about the impact of the scandal on the country’s vaccine roll-out and if – given the preliminary evidence already in the public domain – he is not taking a political risk by delaying his response.

He said he did not believe he was taking a political risk; a risk would arise from him taking no action. What he is missing is that the success of the vaccine roll-out programme largely depends on the buy-in of the South African public. Already there is scepticism from some quarters, with some questioning the effectiveness of the vaccine and others spreading disinformation.

Part of the success equally depends on the person leading the campaign. Until the Digital Vibes saga, Mkhize was that convincing and believable champion of the vaccine campaign.

The disappointment of many with the Digital Vibes saga is not that a government minister is implicated in wrongdoing. Rather it has to do with the fact that the likeable Mkhize is mired in such a controversy.

Ramaphosa cannot adopt the same wait-and-see attitude he usually does when dealing with ANC internal battles. The attitude may have worked in the case of ANC Secretary-General Ace Magashule, when he allowed for internal processes in the ANC to deal with the errant secretary-general. Matters of government have a much wider implication.

Likewise, it would be sad if Ramaphosa is prioritising political considerations ahead of the integrity of his government and that of the entire vaccine programme.

The employment of ministers, unlike that of public servants, is not governed by the Public Service Act, where the conditions of employment are spelt out. Ministers serve at the behest of the president. Frankly, he can even fire one for wearing ugly shoes. (No, this is not directed at the finance minister.) The point is that Ramaphosa’s decision does not depend on the outcome of an investigation by the SIU.

The alternative would be for Mkhize to do the honourable thing and resign. Failing which, the president has no choice but to fire him immediately. DM168

Sibusiso Ngalwa is the politics editor of Newzroom Afrika and chair of the South African National Editors’ Forum.

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper which is available for free to Pick n Pay Smart Shoppers at these Pick n Pay stores.

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All Comments 3

  • Whilst Mkhize obviously played a major role in this crime, there are missing information here. And raises the pertinent question. Why was Digital Vibes appointed when it looks like there is one director, an unknown petrol attendant in KZN? Apart from the R500,000 that went to Mkhise and his family, what happened to the rest of the R150 million? And what did Digital Vibes do with it? Houses, cars? Why are there no stories, articles about the people involved at Digital Vibes, except for the major points? No comments, nothing! Is it indeed possible that there is someone behind this company that really pulled the strings?

    • Then there is another issue of concern, which it should be for all “upstanding” South Africans. Why did Ramaphosa not simply suspend Mkhize for a limited period until the SIU complete their findings. During phase 5 Covid-19 lockdown last year he suspended Minister Stella-Abrahams for 30 days because she broke the lockdown regulations by attending lunch with….Montana (now complicit in State Capture). Then re-appointed her despite her cozy relationship with Montana. And she still is a minister in Ramaphosa’s cabinet. What is the president hiding? Did he know about this Digital Vibes thing before it was exposed by DM? And worse of all, is he, and/or other senior ANC leaders complicit in Digital Vibes and all the other cases of corruption associated with Covid-19? Can we trust anything Ramaphosa says? How many things did he held back when appearing before the Zondo-commission? I believe we only know 10% of the whole saga, and lots more need to be investigated.

  • I believe that politicians and city councillors only need to serve for a period of 5 years , to qualify for full pension benefits. That’s 100 % of salary as a pension and all the bonuses too. If Dr Mkize is fired or he resigns, that would normally disqualify a fund member of any pension benefit. Would ask your team to check this out for us. Dave Dorrofield .Im an insider.

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