by MTHULISI SIBANDA
JOHANNESBURG, (CAJ News) – SKELETONS tumbling out of the closet, critics laying a criminal charge of corruption and pressure from comrades to subject himself to an internal probe, Health Minister, Zweli Mkhize, is mired in quicksand and his position as the head of the country’s internationally-lauded but corruption-riddled fight against COVID-19 is untenable.
This follows his alleged involvement in an irregular contract to a controversial communications company spiralling from one controversy to another with each passing day.
It remains to be seen if his principal in government and ally in the divided ruling African National Congress (ANC) party, President Cyril Ramaphosa, will cave in to pressure to take action or if the embattled minister will step down voluntarily.
However, as Mkhize’s alleged involvement in the Digital Vibes saga takes new twists and turns, either of these scenarios are merely a matter of time.
The furore is becoming a catastrophe to both the embattled government and the factionalised African National Congress (ANC) hit by a series of graft scandals, which while have been synonymous with the ruling party for years, apparently have worsened with the outbreak of the pandemic at the beginning of last year.
On Thursday (today), the opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) laid criminal charges against Mkhize and Sandile Buthelezi, the Health Director General, over the awarding of a multimillion Rand contract to the previously little-known firm, Digital Vibes.
Charges have been laid at the Cape Town central police station.
“Damning revelations against Minister Mkhize keep surfacing about his involvement in the awarding of an irregular contract to a communications company, Digital Vibes,” said DA Shadow Minister of Health, Siviwe Gwarube.
It is reported the owners of this company are Mkhize’s associates and bagged a cool R150 million contract from the Department of Health, between January 2020 to early 2021.
It is further alleged they channeled money and services to the minister and his family.
“Over and above the Special Investigative Unit’s probe, a criminal investigation needs to ensue,” Gwarube said.
Also, on Thursday, his legal woes mounted when the Public Protector’s (PP) office disclosed it would initiate contempt proceedings against Mkhize following his failure to honour a subpoena.
Albeit in an unrelated matter, PP Busisiwe Mkhwebane’s office stated Mkhize had been subpoenaed “to give evidence and produce documents in relation to an investigation into allegations of undue delay and/or failure by the national Department of Health to implement the recommendations of the Report of the Clinical Associate National Task Team 2017.”
The office alleged she had failed to honour the subpoena on three occasions.
Revelations this week by the Daily Maverick suggested Digital Vibes purchased a second-hand bakkie to the tune of R160 000 for Dedani Mkhize, the minister’s son.
This report follows recent revelations that the communications contractor had also paid for maintenance work at the minister’s ‘family property’ in Johannesburg.
The ANC Integrity Committee’s chairperson, George Mashamba, is quoted as saying Mkhize should have presented himself to the panel in the wake of the damning allegations.
The committee is now scheduled to invite the beleaguered minister to explain the controversial ties with Gigital Vibes.
Procedure indicates this committee dealing with issues of impropriety among party members would then compile a report and make recommendations to the National Executive Committee (NEC).
This comes amid divisions in the factionalised ruling party that the so-called step aside rule was selectively applied slapped only against officials seen as opposed to Ramaphosa.
Ramaphosa, who has described the allegations against his minister as “serious” and “disturbing”, is under immense pressure to wield the axe on Mkhize.
He however insisted he could only take action, guided by a probe by the Special Investigating Unit (SIU).
“I am dealing with this matter. There is full co-operation from the minister,” he said on Wednesday while responding to questions during the delivery of his budget vote at the National Assembly.
– CAJ News