President Cyril Ramaphosa has placed Heath Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize on special leave pending the finalisation of the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) investigation into the multimillion-rand communications tender awarded to Digital Vibes, a communications company run by his former associates.
In a statement on Tuesday, the presidency said the suspension would allow Mkhize to attend to the allegations against him.
Tourism Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane will act as health minister. The statement came just hours after Mkhize “fully acknowledged” and took “full responsibility for the public outrage that has been caused” by Digital Vibes scandal.
Mkhize addressed the media during a visit to the Northern Cape where he was assessing the province’s Covid-19 vaccination programme roll-out.
The health minister had earlier said he had raised the special leave issue with Ramaphosa and was “still awaiting his counsel on this”.
But Mkhize was adamant that he would not resign.
During his address, Mkhize apologised for the disruptions caused by the irregular awarding of the Digital Vibes tender but maintained that he had not benefited from the questionable contract.
“The negative discourse has not only affected me, but my family and the work being done in the fight against [the] Covid-19 [pandemic],” said Mkhize.
He admitted that a small portion of the proceeds from the tainted contract was used for maintenance work at his home but maintained that this was done without him and his wife’s knowledge.
Mkhize also revealed that his family had discussed allegations that their son, Dedani, benefitted from the Digital Vibes tender and instructed him to repay whatever proceeds he received.
The minister said he was unaware of who his son was associated with but said that as children grow up, parents have no say in who they associate with.
Mkhize has been under fire since a report by the Daily Maverick’s investigative unit, Scorpio, revealed that Digital Vibes received a R150 million tender from the department of health.
The company is allegedly controlled by Mkhize’s former aides, Tahera Mather and Naadhira Mitha, though the two are not listed as directors.
The Daily Maverick reported last Tuesday that Digital Vibes allegedly bought a second-hand Land Cruiser for Dedani, around the same time the department paid about R50 million to the company for its services.
Even in the face of this mounting evidence, Mkhize refuted any links to the dodgy tender and insisted he would to clear his name.
Meanwhile, the DA revealed on Tuesday that it will be laying a complaint against Mkhize with Parliament’s ethics committee, for his role in the awarding of the Digital Vibes contract.
“The DA is of the view that minister Mkhize’s conduct may be in contravention section 5.2.2 of the code. It states that a member may ‘not use his or her influence as a public representative in his or her dealings with an organ of state in such a manner as to improperly advantage the direct personal or private financial or business interests of such member or any immediate family of that member or any business partner of that member or the immediate family of that member,’” said Siviwe Gwarube, DA’s shadow minister of health.
In a statement, Gwarube said the portfolio committee on health had failed to hold Mkhize to account “as the ANC has used its majority to close ranks and prevent the minister from facing the music last week during the committee’s meeting”.
Lusanda Myoli, the ethics committee’s secretary, declined to comment on the DA complaint saying “the committee does not discuss such issues as they are internal matters”.
Last week, the DA lodged a criminal complaint against Mkhize and the department’s director-general Dr Sandile Buthelezi.
Last Wednesday, the SIU indicated that its investigation into the contract had reached a “critical” stage and was expected to be complete by the end of this month.
The unit gave a comprehensive presentation and provided an update on investigations related to personal protective equipment (PPE) to Parliament’s public finance watchdog, the standing committee on public accounts (Scopa).
SIU head Advocate Andy Mothibi told the Scopa that investigators were going through the procurement process in the department.
The department’s own preliminary probe had found that the PPE procurement process was irregular.
He also said the SIU would probe various allegations made against other officials in the department.
“We are at a critical stage of the investigation. At this stage I am constrained in terms of going into details as that would have the potential to prejudice the investigation. We are investigating all the allegations. The minister [Mkhize] has expressed his cooperation.”
He said the investigators were following legal provisions in the SIU Act and would interview witnesses under oath.
Earlier this year, the SIU said it would complete all its investigations related to the Covid-19 pandemic by August this year. Mothibi said he was confident they would meet the deadline. He was also confident the Digital Vibes investigation would be completed speedily.