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AGE OF ACCOUNTABILITY

Bit players in Digital Vibes scandal on the hook while the big fish swim free

Bit players in Digital Vibes scandal on the hook while the big fish swim free
Illustrative image, from left. | Sources: Former health minister Zweli Mkhize, Tahera Mather and Naadhira Mitha. (Photo: Facebook) | Zweli Mkhize (Photo: Gallo Images) | Adobe Stock

However, the NPA says prominent individuals implicated in the R150m Digital Vibes scheme are still under investigation. Three years after the scandal was exposed, the prosecuting authority has confirmed that the probe continues.

The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) is awaiting the completion of a forensic report into the flow of funds emanating from alleged offences relating to the R150-million Digital Vibes Department of Health contract, NPA regional spokesperson Lumka Mahanjana said on Friday, 31 May.

“The investigations are most certainly ongoing.”

Mahanjana was responding to Daily Maverick’s questions about how far the Digital Vibes investigation had progressed, whether those implicated would be charged, and when the case might go to trial.

The NPA’s remarks follow the conviction of Lizeka Tonjeni, 49, a senior Municipal Infrastructure Support Agency (Misa) official. The Pretoria Specialised Commercial Crimes Court found her guilty of corruption on 24 May.

digital vibes tonjeni

Lizeka Tonjeni, a senior Municipal Infrastructure Support Agency official, was found guilty in the Pretoria Specialised Commercial Crimes court on charges relating to the Digital Vibes contract. (Photo: Supplied)

Tonjeni received R160,000 in bribes from Digital Vibes director Tahera Mather while she was the Misa project manager for a contract worth nearly R4-million awarded to the company to provide communication services in 2018.

This corruption took place before the Department of Health (DoH) awarded Digital Vibes a R150-million contract. Mather is implicated in both the Misa case and the R150-million scandal.

Tonjeni’s R160,000 payment pales in comparison to the Special Investigating Unit’s (SIU) damning findings against former health minister Zweli Mkhize and top health department officials in relation to the dodgy Digital Vibes deal.

NHI and Covid deals

The 2021 SIU report, which was released following a series of exposés by Daily Maverick’s Scorpio investigative unit, revealed how the irregular procurement process involving the National Health Insurance (NHI) and Covid-19 media campaign amounted to about R150-million in fruitless and wasteful expenditure incurred by the department.

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

Evidence obtained by the SIU placed Mather, the former personal spokesperson and long-time friend of Mkhize, and Mkhize’s former personal assistant, Naadhira Mitha, at the centre of a massive alleged looting frenzy enabled by a questionable communications deal from the DoH.

In November 2019, the department awarded the contract to Digital Vibes to provide communications services for the proposed NHI. In March 2020, it extended the scope of the contract to include the Covid-19 media campaign.

The SIU investigation found that Mkhize directly influenced the decision to award a R150-million contract to Digital Vibes and that he and his family financially benefited from the deal. 

It directly implicated the Digital Vibes “masterminds” – Mather and Naadhira Mitha – and several department officials in misconduct and alleged criminal offences.

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

The SIU also found that Mkhize’s son, Dedani, had received at least R3.8-million from the Digital Vibes contract by way of cash paid through a third-party account, a vehicle that had been bought for him and payments deposited into one of his company’s accounts.

Mkhize has denied that he or his family benefited from the deal.

Tonjeni case

Misa is a national government agency that reports to the minister of cooperative governance and traditional affairs.

The alleged corruption began in 2018 when Misa awarded Digital Vibes a tender worth nearly R4-million to provide communication services for 24 months. At the time of the deal, the department was led by Mkhize.

Tonjeni was arrested after turning herself in to police at the Pretoria Central Police Station on 24 May 2022, following a Hawks investigation.

She was released on R5,000 bail.

Explaining the Misa corruption case, the NPA’s Mahanjana said that at the time of the Misa transgression, Tonjeni was designated as a project manager in charge of the appointment and management of the service provider, to whom all communications had been directed.

According to Mahanjana, from December 2018 until August 2020, while Tonjeni was still a project manager, she received payments from Digital Vibes of R160,000 that were not authorised or due to her.

“In court, she pleaded not guilty to the charges and denied that she fraudulently received payments from Digital Vibes. In her testimony, Tonjeni said the payments received from the director of Digital Vibes, Mather, were payments for weight loss and energy booster products she was selling… and as such, she still owes the director of Digital Vibes R85,000, since she was unable to deliver some of the products and pay back her money,” Mahanjana explained.

Magistrate Nicole Setshoge found Tonjeni’s evidence to be unreliable and dishonest and determined that the State was able to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt.

Following the conviction, Tonjeni applied to have her bail extended, but this was opposed by the State.

According to Mahanjana, Tonjeni travelled to the Eastern Cape without notifying the investigating officer and had applied for a new passport despite her bail conditions prohibiting her from doing so.

Dismissing Tonjeni’s application, Setshoge said Tonjeni had undermined the justice system.

Mahanjana said the NPA welcomed the conviction.

However, the high-profile individuals involved in the Digital Vibes scandal remain untouched.

Second Digital Vibes accused before court

Department of Health director of communications Popo Maja appeared briefly before the Pretoria Specialised Commercial Crimes Court in June 2023.

He was charged with two counts of corruption for his alleged role in awarding the R150-million contract. He was allegedly appointed to the Bid Specification and Bid Evaluation Committee in 2019 to appoint a company to handle communications on the NHI.

He allegedly received two payments from Digital Vibes totalling R15,000.

Read more in Daily Maverick: SIU secures order to freeze R22-million in funds linked to Digital Vibes scandal

In June 2021, the SIU froze just over R22-million in cash and investments belonging to Digital Vibes.

Kaizer Kganyago, the SIU’s spokesperson, did not respond to Daily Maverick’s requests for an update on how much the SIU had recovered so far from the Digital Vibes contracts.

Meanwhile, the Special Tribunal also ruled that the SIU may seek to recover nearly R5-million from Zweli Mkhize’s daughter-in-law and from entities owned by his wife, Dr May Mkhize, and his son, Dedani.

Sentencing in the Tonjeni case will begin on 6 June. DM

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Why…. with all the digital tracking and blatant expenditure… are the keypins still free ?

  • paul Volker says:

    It’s very clear across all state capture cases that the NPA has been encouraged to prosecute the minions, but hands-off the politicians.

  • Bewe 1414 says:

    I really think that our country need the assistance of some overseas investigative units to ensure enough evidence for prosecution. There are too many corrupt souls causing delays and hiding evidence.

    • Charles Parr says:

      There is nothing wrong with the skills that we have here but it will be impossible to get past the political instructions.

  • J vN says:

    Another of many, many, many corrupt denizens of KZN. Can’t we just build a wall on the Drakensberg and give KZN its independence? I’d love to be rid of these scum in the article, including the odious Zuma clan.

    • Zamani Kutta says:

      And not forgetting the scum bugs that have manipulated our currency(banks), sponsored political parties that have been formed by your so called clans. It’s foolhardy to expect that people can be swayed by one sided views, meant to blindfold them, for ever. The narrative and Zuma media obsessions have only galvanized what we have always known; speak up against White power and face the consequences. Now that Malema has tonned down he’s rhetoric owing to full stomach syndrome, all guns are now aimed at KZN. I wonder when people will wake up to the reality that politicians serve interests of thier funders first, their own, friends and family, and lastly you. This is an issue of – which side of the game you happen to be. It’s the oppressed, in the form of you and me vs the oppressor in the form of funders and political higher-ups. Your vote is collateral for these blood suckers(all politicians), to bargain for positioning. At the high table we don’t sit. We wait somewhere near the kennel to be served the meatless bone and whatever else is left over and unneeded. Voting is a pill once swallowed – will cause unending migranes. The antidote is in upending the system. [email protected]

  • Sean Hammon says:

    Blah blah blah democracy, elections, constitution, rainbow nation, Mandela blah blah blah… No convictions, ever! South Africa is a scum filled cesspit run by pathological thieves. And they’re still in power. And they’re not going anywhere.

  • Trenton Carr says:

    Everyone is dragging their feet on purpose. Time for performance reviews… Oh sorry, no such thing as that for taxpayer funded salaries.

  • Geoff Coles says:

    A dysfunctional NPA, SAPS and an ANC Executive that doesn’t want their people prosecuted

  • Rob Martin says:

    Watch this space. Zweli in talks with Zuma about a senior position in KZN. Some even say Premier.

  • Belinda Cavero says:

    Thank you DM for keeping this in the news. Incredibly frustrating and disheartening to see that the big guys still roam free. Am I correct that Mkhize’s daughter owns a beauty salon franchise? If citizens weren’t so apathetic, these salons could be boycotted.

    • Christopher Campbell says:

      Good thought Belinda but it wouldn’t work. Look at all the poor, downtrodden people in Eastern Cape and other areas who have been ignored for 30 years and still turned out to vote for the ANC.

  • D'Esprit Dan says:

    Not sure why I can’t comment on the desktop site? Comments don’t seem to be open. You’re all probably delighted at my absence!

  • D'Esprit Dan says:

    Not sure why I can’t comment on the desktop site? Comments don’t seem to be open. You’re all probably delighted at my absence!

  • Freda Brodie says:

    Shamila Batohi has been such a disappointment. I understand that the NPA was hollowed out by Zuma, but she was appointed on 1st February 2019. And promised South Africans that she can be trusted and do the job.
    She was a senior legal advisor at to the Prosecutor at the ICC before her appointment. 5 years later we should have seen some of the Zondo implicated politicians in court? Only a few people have been charged, but not one senior politician, why not? Implicated politicians are still in Parliament !!
    Only junior staff have been charged.
    I had much respect for her, is she now compromised/captured?

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