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Mr President, what is honourable about Zweli Mkhize?

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

President Cyril Ramaphosa wants us to remember Zweli Mkhize fondly when we lost R150-million in a potentially corrupt scheme designed to line the pockets of the former health minister’s friends, family and allies.

First published in the Daily Maverick 168 weekly newspaper.

Honourable! That’s the word that President Cyril Ramaphosa used to describe former health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize – just a few hours after the release of the much-awaited Digital Vibes report.

Ramaphosa has refused to condemn Mkhize for his role in the R150-million scandal and instead chose to praise him for the work he did in the early stages of the Covid-19 outbreak. 

Yet the Special Investigating Unit’s (SIU’s) report on Digital Vibes is damning for Mkhize. 

The SIU found that Mkhize not only gave “instructions” to the then director-general of health, Precious Matsoso, to sort out a contract for his ally Tahera Mather of Digital Vibes, but that his conduct had also been at best “improper” and at worst “unlawful”.

In less than 13 months the ill-experienced company was paid R150-million of public money – funds intended to go towards the fight against the coronavirus. The entire contract was found to be irregular and more than R70-million of it was regarded by the SIU as “fruitless and wasteful expenditure”.

Yet Ramaphosa wants us to remember Mkhize fondly when we lost R150-million in a potentially corrupt scheme designed to line the pockets of his friends, family and allies.

This raises the question of whether Ramaphosa has actually read the report, which he has had in his possession since July. 

That Mkhize initially did well in the country’s response to Covid-19 is neither here nor there. His questionable conduct supersedes all else.

That the President sees nothing wrong with publicly defending a man implicated in the looting of R150-million of public funds leaves much to be desired. Assuming that a low-cost RDP house costs R150,000 to build, that means we could have provided 1,000 families with a roof over their heads with the money – some of which ended up directly benefiting the former minister and his family. 

Why would Ramaphosa risk his own credibility by avoiding criticising Mkhize openly?

The simple, straightforward theory would be that he really liked the former minister, and as a senior ANC member explained it to this writer metaphorically: “He was disappointed by his trusted horse.”

The other scenario, which makes more sense, is that Ramaphosa is sacrificing his anti-corruption stance at the altar of political considerations.

The president is already not in the good books of the ANC leadership in KwaZulu-Natal, the governing party’s biggest province. They blame him for former president Jacob Zuma’s woes.

It must also be remembered that Mkhize had mounted a presidential campaign ahead of the ANC’s 54th National Conference at Nasrec in December 2017. 

Incidentally, Tahera Mather and Naadhira Mitha – the masterminds of the Digital Vibes scandal – were managing his campaign. A few months before the conference, he folded his campaign tents and aligned himself with Ramaphosa – earning himself the Health Ministry in the new Cabinet.

Could it be that Digital Vibes was meant to build Mkhize’s war chest ahead of the ANC’s 2022 conference?

Gullible South Africans already saw a future president in him in the aftermath of the Covid-19 outbreak. But who can blame them, as Mkhize was the star of South Africa’s Covid-19 show – a Joseph Shabalala of the Cabinet Black Mambazo, if you will.

As far as ANC rules are concerned, nothing stops Mkhize – who has not been criminally charged for his misconduct – from contesting for the higher office again. KwaZulu-Natal is loyal to its own. Ask former president Thabo Mbeki. He can attest to this, having had the entire province turn against him, in support of Zuma, at Polokwane in 2007. Even in 2017 the province had overwhelmingly backed Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma as the next ANC presidential candidate.

If Ramaphosa is to seek a second term as ANC president then he will know not to agitate his political detractors, least of all KwaZulu-Natal.

Perhaps that is why Ramaphosa has been attempting political ballet – tippy-toeing around the Mkhize issue.

This is the same man who stood on a podium in Tshwane on 27 September making a case for the voting public to back the ANC’s recycled manifesto – promising reforms and a tough stance on corruption.

But whatever the President’s considerations are in the Mkhize matter, they are hard to fathom. 

One thing is clear, though, there is nothing honourable about Mkhize. DM168

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper which is available for R25 at Pick n Pay, Exclusive Books and airport bookstores. For your nearest stockist, please click here.

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All Comments 13

  • More to the point, is that there is nothing honourable in Ramaphosa’s implicit defense of the former health minister. There are two possible explanation for the president’s extraordinary usage of this word in its context- either he is tone deaf and feels that South Africans and their struggle with Covid are not as important as Mkhize, or that the latter is integral to his plans of retaining Kwa Zulu Natal and therefore the hegemony of the ANC and his presidency. Either way , it was a telling usage of the word.

    • You’ve hit the nail on the head. I almost feel sorry for CR, he is between a rock and a hard place…but he needs to make a call…soon!

  • I reckon we need to build a new prison just for politicians and civil servants that betray the public trust. If found guilty, there is no sentence. They simply stay there until Jesus comes.

  • Hard to believe he was totally honest before Covid presented an “opportunity”. A little bit of digging will probably show this: his closest work colleagues, his son are all ready to do something illegal at a moment’s notice? Disgraceful that CR does not condemn him and this behaviour.

    • He was ANC Treasurer General in the Zuma State Capture years, receiving all the Gupta, Bosasa and Hitachi money. What better training do you need.

      • I think that is literally right on the money! Everyone one has something incriminating against everyone else! Result? Stagnation.

  • Remember, all of Parliament is ‘honourable’. They are such a scabby lot, especially cANCer. The antonyms fit their ilk much better: ‘shabby, inglorious, debasing, opprobrious, unprincipled, dishonorable, ignominious, shameful, wrong, degrading, disreputable, disgraceful’. I thought that Ramaphoria was different, but he is just the same same as all the thieving, lying, cadre deployed cANCer.

  • Is anyone surprised?

    This is just Ramaphosa showing his true colours: in all likelihood as corrupt as the next ANC politician, albeit perhaps slightly more circumspect and less boorish and clumsy.

  • More to the point is that there is nothing honourable in the anc. The organisation does not understand that it is no longer a so-called liberation movement where anything goes, as long as it is beneficial to the anc, never mind the people or the country. They have no morals and no ethics. How on earth can anyone expect their leader to be honourable or honest?

  • With comments like that, it is looking more and more bleak for the future with a lame President until the next election and then the Zuma faction comes back into their own.
    A negotiator and a leader are two difference things and it’s time the nation had a leader.
    Let’s have a show of leadership qualities starting with the announcement of the next Chief Justice. This is make or break time.

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