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Lest We Forget: Digital Vibes, two years on — Zweli Mkhize & Co still free, probe ‘ongoing’

Lest We Forget: Digital Vibes, two years on — Zweli Mkhize & Co still free, probe ‘ongoing’
Illustrative image | Sources: Former health minister Zweli Mkhize, Tahera Mather and Naadhira Mitha. (Photo: Facebook) | Zweli Mkhize (Photo: Gallo Images) | Adobe Stock

Two years have passed since we published the first in a series of Daily Maverick exposés on the Department of Health’s R150m Digital Vibes contract. There have been no high-level arrests or prosecutions, despite strong evidence linking Zweli Mkhize and his family to the corrupt deal.

Last Thursday marked exactly two years since Daily Maverick published the first of what was to become an extensive series of investigative reports into the Digital Vibes scandal.

On 23 February 2021, we revealed that Tahera Mather, then health minister Zweli Mkhize’s long-time spin doctor, had been scoring payments as a consultant to Digital Vibes, an obscure little company that sat with a lucrative communications contract from Mkhize’s national Department of Health (DoH). 

Zweli Mkhize’s ‘family friend’ and ex-private secretary pocket Covid-19 cash via R82m Department of Health contracts

In the months that followed, our reporting peeled the layers off the dubious deal, revealing that Mather was in fact the mastermind behind Digital Vibes. 

Crucially, we also illustrated in painstaking detail that Mkhize and his family had pocketed nearly R9-million in funds laundered from the contract.

The deal ended up draining R150-million from the department’s coffers.

Department of Health’s irregular R150m Digital Vibes deal: Daily Maverick’s investigative work so far in one bundle

A probe by the Special Investigating Unit (SIU), which nowadays appears to be the sole South African law enforcement body capable of delivering results in a timeous manner, confirmed the above cash flows. The SIU has sought to recover some of the ill-gotten gains from those who benefited from the rotten contract.

Little to celebrate

As far as arrests and prosecutions go, however, there has been very little to celebrate. 

So far, the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) has managed to charge only one mid-level official from the Municipal Infrastructure Support Agent (Misa), an entity within the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (Cogta).

In 2018, when Mkhize was still in charge of Cogta, Digital Vibes scored a smaller communications contract from Misa.

One of our reports detailed how Digital Vibes had submitted fraudulent information to win the Misa deal. It was later revealed that Digital Vibes had paid an alleged bribe of R160,000 to Lizeka Tonjeni, a Misa official.

Tonjeni was arrested and is currently facing corruption charges in the Specialised Commercial Crimes Court in Pretoria.

Released: Damning SIU report finds at least R72m fruitless and wasted, implicates Mkhize, DoH officials in Digital Vibes contract

This is a good development, but at the same time, Tonjeni’s arrest raises questions about the Hawks’ and the NPA’s approach and priorities in cases like this. 

If they’d been able to nab and charge Tonjeni, why couldn’t they by now have brought to book the more prominent individuals involved in the Digital Vibes looting? 

After all, the cash trails and other evidence linking the likes of Mkhize, his family and Mather to the DoH leg of the looting scheme are as clear and compelling as the monies transferred to Tonjeni. 

Hawks and NPA progress

Daily Maverick reports and the SIU’s filings at the Special Tribunal represent an abundance of information and evidence that’s been readily available to the Hawks and the NPA.

In our minds, there is no reason why Mkhize and his fellow suspects should not by now have been arrested and charged in accordance with the legislative mechanisms that deal with government corruption, such as the Prevention and Combating of Corrupt Activities Act.

The Hawks, which has assigned its Serious Corruption Investigation Unit to the case, say they’re making progress.

Hawks spokesperson Brigadier Thandi Mbambo said: “171 affidavits have been obtained thus far on the main matter [DoH] and 75 affidavits have been obtained thus far in the Misa matter.”

She explained that the Hawks and the NPA were cooperating to bring the matter to a close. 

“This investigation, as in other Hawks investigations, is prosecution-guided and two prosecutors have been assigned on this case to provide guidance and advise investigators during the course of the investigation,” said Mbambo.

Visit Daily Maverick’s home page for more news, analysis and investigations

Asked for details on its progress in the matter, the NPA said: “The second leg of the matter is still under investigation. Therefore, we are not at liberty to disclose the names of the suspects before they are formally charged.”

That’s all well and good, but the NPA has to play its part by indeed soon charging the high-level culprits involved in the saga.

And by soon, we mean within the next few months.

If it fails to do so, Digital Vibes will become the umpteenth example of a high-level corruption case drifting in the doldrums.

This will strengthen perceptions that the Hawks and the NPA either dither because of incompetence or inadequate resources or, worse, deliberately dilly-dally when there are political considerations. 

The faith in these bodies, and indeed the entire system, will further be damaged if, by the time the first Digital Vibes report turns three, Mkhize and his corrupt associates are still not charged. DM

Gallery

Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Lawrence Sisitka says:

    In addition to the main issues identified in this and other reports on the Digital Vibes fiasco, I have yet to see any analysis of what communication initiatives or materials were developed as a result of the R150million payment. It would seem that absolutely nothing was produced, and this when there was a desperate need for quality, reliable and accessible information in the nation’s majority languages. For the entire pandemic period, there was almost no information shared in any language other than English, rendering the majority population less than informed about the whole issue. R150 million could have made a major contribution to meeting this quite appalling communication gap. Ok, that may not seem the most critical aspect of this deeply disturbing manifestation of the ongoing and systemic corruption affecting every facet of governance in this country, but it does show, once again, that it is the most marginalised and disempowered citizens who are most seriously affected by the disaster we have become.

  • Dennis Bailey says:

    Absolutely disgusting that they have not been charged. Even the cosmetics of Ace being charged had consequences for his position within the ANC, so why not so for Mkhize? The fact that Mather has scored another contract by bribing an official who has been charged, beggars belief. Do these people we put in government have absolutely no shame? Viva, ANC scoundrels, Viva.

  • ROY CLARKE says:

    Is it not possible for the private sector to set up a fund to fund both an intelligence/investigative organsation and conduct private prosecutions in selected cases?

  • Gordon Bentley says:

    We must lay a charge against these rotten, thieves. Whoever has all the facts at hand should lay charges against these scoundrels together with some trusted legal personell.
    By all accounts all the facts on the public domain. These need to be collected and a case made to nail these bastards who have stolen so much money from the Tax Payers.
    Please somone do it.

  • Katharine Ambrose says:

    How many decades must we wait before some of these crooks are jailed? The status quo is that these people have all been exposed as criminal by the painstaking research of journalists like Myburgh. They’ve had whole booked published on them and commissions of enquiry have spelled it all out at vast expense with meticulous care and yet no glimmer of orange is to be seen. Why would South Africans think the NPA and Co are serious?

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