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