In December 2020 a brand new Tammy Taylor Nails franchise opened its doors in Pietermaritzburg’s Midlands Mall.
On the day of the grand launch party, a beaming Sthoko Mkhize (34), Health Minister Zweli Mkhize’s daughter-in-law, posed for a picture in front of her new business.
She stood on a plush carpet that led guests through the store’s entrance to a table laden with cheese platters and other treats.
Behind the snacks were several bottles of Moët & Chandon Champagne on a purpose-built shelf bearing the famous French bubbly’s logo.
Another picture shows Zweli Mkhize’s son Dedani (33) sitting at a pedicure station, clearly enjoying the benefits of his wife’s new shop.
“Thank you for attending our successful launch, here’s to a beautiful start,” the salon’s Instagram account later posted.
But the glitz and excitement belied a disturbing truth about Sthoko Mkhize’s new venture.
Following months of investigation, Daily Maverick’s Scorpio can now reveal that at least R650,000 that flowed from the Department of Health’s (DoH’s) allegedly corrupt Digital Vibes contract went towards the start-up costs for Sthoko Mkhize’s Tammy Taylor Nails outlet.
We’ve also uncovered monies totalling at least R446,000 that had been diverted from the R150-million DoH contract to the account of a new hair salon, Gold Ace Cuts and Curls.
This new business, co-owned by Dedani Mkhize, is located in a smaller shopping centre just around the corner from his wife’s nail franchise.
Some of the proceeds of the DoH contract that had ended up in the account of one of Dedani Mkhize’s companies also covered expenses for his farm outside Pietermaritzburg, our investigation has shown.
Money stemming from the DoH contract covered a few personal bills too, including at least one monthly instalment for a BMW SUV.
The starting point for our months-long investigation is the funds that Digital Vibes received from the DoH for its contentious National Health Insurance (NHI) and Covid-19 communications services.
Between late January 2020 and February 2021, the DoH paid Digital Vibes R150-million in 19 instalments of varying values.
We followed a good deal of the R150-million to a web of first-, second- and third-tier recipients.
Our analysis of scores of transactions between these entities has led us to this disturbing conclusion: during the worst health crisis in South Africa’s recent memory, money from a vital contract awarded by our national health department was allegedly laundered towards new businesses set up by the health minister’s son and daughter-in-law.
It is now also clear that at least two of the first-tier recipients of the Digital Vibes loot, namely Mateta Projects and Composit Trade and Investments 02, at least partly acted as alleged slush funds for the Mkhize couple.
Scorpio’s latest exposé firmly places us in greenfields territory as far as the Digital Vibes matter is concerned — to our knowledge, the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) and other law enforcement bodies have not yet probed the monies that went to the Mkhizes’ businesses.
We will unpack five examples of how funds originating from the Digital Vibes contract were funnelled through an array of accounts before ending up with these new businesses.
Dedani Mkhize rejected all notions that he had been the beneficiary of alleged money laundering linked to the Digital Vibes deal.
“This obsession of trying to make me look like I took Digital Vibes money is just crazy,” he told us in early July.
In the same breath, however, he seemingly conceded that the idea may not be all that ludicrous.
“I have already formally informed the SIU that should the gifts that I have received from Ms [Tahera] Mather since 2015 be proven to have been from irregular state contracts, I am prepared to repay such monies directly to the state.”
His wife, Sthoko Mkhize, did not respond to any of our queries regarding her new nail franchise.
Cash sequence 1: The Composit link
The first string of transactions on our radar was kicked off by a R7.8-million payment from the DoH to Digital Vibes on 15 April 2020.
This would have been for one of the first invoices Digital Vibes submitted for its Covid-19 services after its contract had been unlawfully amended to include work outside of its original scope, namely the NHI.
About a week after it received the money, Digital Vibes forwarded R874,000 to Composit Trade and Investments 02. This entity’s sole director is Tahera Mather, Zweli Mkhize’s longtime personal spokesperson and one of the alleged masterminds behind the Digital Vibes scheme.
Mather did not respond to queries.
In all, Digital Vibes paid R20.5-million to Composit throughout 2020 and early 2021.
On 2 May 2020, just over a week after Composit had received the R874,000 from Digital Vibes, Composit transferred R300,000 to All Out Trading, a business registered in 2003 that currently lists Dedani Mkhize as its only director.
“I have disclosed [to the SIU] the benefit I received from Ms Tahera Mather which was an amount of R300,000 & cash that she had gifted me as someone whom I related with on a personal level,” Dedani Mkhize told us.
“I did not have any dealings or arrangements with Digital Vibes,” he claimed, notwithstanding the evidence that the money had indeed come from Digital Vibes.
On the same day that Dedani Mkhize’s All Out Trading received R300,000 from Mather’s Composit Trade and Investments — money that effectively came from the DoH via Digital Vibes — Mkhize forwarded R146,000 from the All Out Trading account to Gold Ace Cuts and Curls.
This is the name of the hair salon and café Dedani Mkhize co-owns with another Pietermaritzburg businessman.
The business was registered in March 2020, shortly before it started receiving its first funds linked to the DoH contract.
However, the salon only opened its doors to customers in July 2021.
On 2 May 2020, Dedani Mkhize also paid nearly R22,000 from the All Out Trading account to cover an instalment for a BMW X3.
This payment was also bankrolled with the R300,000 in DoH cash that had been passed on to All Out Trading via Digital Vibes and Composit Trade and Investments 02.
Cash sequence 2: Sokhela and the cattle
Our second example introduces a new roleplayer in the broader Digital Vibes saga, namely KwaZulu-Natal businessman Protus Sokhela.
We start with a series of three payments from the DoH to Digital Vibes on different dates in May 2020, which netted the firm nearly R30-million.
On 22 May, roughly a week after the last of the three DoH payments, Digital Vibes began transferring large amounts of money to Mateta Projects, a company owned by Mdu Mthethwa.
As we’ve previously reported, Mateta Projects was one of the first-tier recipients of funds from Digital Vibes. The company received R10.5-million during the period in which Digital Vibes executed the DoH contract.
The bulk of this amount, about R6.35-million, was transferred to Mateta over a period of just one week in late May 2020, after Digital Vibes had pocketed the payments of nearly R30-million from the DoH.
In mid-June 2020, with its account flush with cash from Digital Vibes, Mateta began moving money to an entity called Sirela Trading.
Mateta made two payments of R1-million each to Sirela on 16 June, followed by another R1-million the following day, and R300,000 on 18 June.
In other words, by 18 June, Sirela sat with R3.3-million in money that can be traced all the way back to the DoH’s Digital Vibes contract.
In September 2020, Sirela in turn transferred R170,000 to Dedani Mkhize’s All Out Trading. On that same day, R100,000 was moved from the All Out Trading account to Dedani’s hair salon, Gold Ace Cuts and Curls.
Sirela Trading’s director, Sokhela, has longstanding ties to the Mkhize family.
Along with Zweli Mkhize’s wife, Dr May Mkhize, he is listed as a trustee of the ZLM Trust, which owns the Bryanston property that featured in our earlier exposé regarding maintenance work bankrolled by Digital Vibes.
Sokhela is also listed as a co-director of Tusokuhle Farming, Dedani Mkhize’s farming entity.
Sokhela has strongly denied that his company, Sirela, was used as a conduit for illicit cash flows from Digital Vibes to Dedani Mkhize.
According to Sokhela, Sirela received money from Mthethwa’s Mateta Projects because he (Sokhela) had agreed to help Mthethwa with cattle purchases.
“I had merely assisted him in securing quality and reasonable livestock from various farmers in and around KZN that are reputable and can confirm based on your question that one of them was Dedani Mkhize,” stated Sokhela.
As regards the R170,000 that went from Sirela to Dedani Mkhize’s All Out Trading, Sokhela had this to say: “Even some of my livestock has been purchased from them [Dedani Mkhize]; I am certain that the purchase of R170,000 must have been the case.”
Dedani Mkhize and Mdu Mthethwa both echoed the cattle story. Their full accounts can be accessed here.
Cash cycle 3: Mateta moves more money
In the previous cash cycle we looked at, money moved from the DoH to Digital Vibes, then from Digital Vibes to Mateta Projects, from Mateta Projects to Sirela, from Sirela to All Out Trading, and, finally, from All Out Trading to Dedani Mkhize’s hair salon.
In the remaining case studies, the money follows a direct route to the Mkhizes’ entities once it reaches Mateta.
On 18 June 2020, the same day on which Mthethwa’s company paid R300,000 to Sirela, it also transferred R70,000 directly to Dedani Mkhize’s All Out Trading.
A further R150,000 from Mateta landed in All Out Trading’s account on 27 June 2020. On this very same day, All Out Trading moved R100,000 to Dedani Mkhize’s hair salon.
Mateta paid another R150,000 to All Out Trading on 29 June 2020. Four days later, All Out Trading used some of that money for farming equipment worth R42,000, presumably for Dedani Mkhize’s farm.
Cash cycle 4: As simple as can be
The penultimate and final cash flows represent perhaps the simplest examples of how Digital Vibes’ alleged DoH loot was passed on to the benefit of the minister’s son and daughter-in-law.
We’ll start with R4.7-million from the DoH that landed in Digital Vibes’ account on 29 October 2020.
Six days later, on 4 November, Digital Vibes paid R364,454 to Mateta Projects.
Wasting no time, Mateta forwarded R200,000 to Dedani Mkhize’s All Out Trading on the same day it received the payment from Digital Vibes.
Finally, and also on 4 November, All Out Trading transferred R100,000 to Gold Ace Cuts and Curls.
By this point in time, and factoring in all the previous cash cycles, Dedani Mkhize’s new salon had received at least R446,000 in funds that can be linked to the Digital Vibes contract.
Mateta’s Mdu Mthethwa has strongly denied that he had helped to launder some of the Digital Vibes cash for the benefit of the minister’s son and daughter-in-law.
“I never ‘forwarded’ money or gave ‘kickbacks’ to anyone through my company, as you allege. I have never given money to Dedani Mkhize or his wife. I do not know them and have never interacted with any member of the Mkhize family,” he stated in a response received in early July 2021.
However, if the previous cash flow examples have not provided sufficient reason to doubt his denial, the final one almost certainly will.
Cash cycle 5: Nailing it
Throughout November 2020, the Instagram account for the Tammy Taylor outlet in the Midlands Mall announced that it would be “#openingsoon!!”.
Unbeknown to the boutique’s followers and would-be clients, the business was busy being put together with proceeds from the DoH’s Digital Vibes contract.
Here is how it worked:
On 13 November 2020, the DoH made a payment of R11.1-million to Digital Vibes.
Ten days later, on 24 November, Digital Vibes transferred R726,450 to Mdu Mthethwa’s company, Mateta Projects.
Again wasting no time, Mateta Projects paid R650,098 to a company called Adluli, also on 24 November.
Scorpio has confirmed that Adluli was the main contractor responsible for the shop-fitting and other work on Sthoko Mkhize’s Tammy Taylor Nails franchise.
We have also confirmed that the money it received from Mateta Projects was indeed for work on the very same store.
It is not clear exactly how much money, in total, was spent to establish Sthoko’s nail salon.
One source familiar with the franchise model for Tammy Taylor Nails suggested that the R650,000 may have covered a little less than half of the required start-up costs.
Whatever the case may be, it is clear that a significant portion of the money needed to establish the business was covered with funds that came from the DoH’s Digital Vibes deal.
Together with the money that had been funnelled to her husband’s own salon, at least R1.1-million had therefore been shifted from the Digital Vibes deal to businesses proudly owned by the minister’s immediate family. DM
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