When the statement from the president about Health Minister Zweli Mkhize finally landed, it was not complicated. He had been placed on special leave. “This period of special leave will enable the minister to attend to allegations and investigations concerning contracts between the department of health and a service provider, Digital Vibes,” the presidency said in a short statement released on Tuesday afternoon.
“The Special Investigating Unit is investigating this matter and the president awaits a report on the outcome of this probe.” But why had it been so difficult to get to this point?
The allegations against Mkhize were damning and fully implicated him. He agreed the contracts that benefited his former personal assistant and “comrades” were irregular. So why was it so hard for him to resign or be relieved of his duties?
It had been weeks since the Daily Maverick had published a series of exposés, but President Cyril Ramaphosa had been content to say he “was dealing with the matter”, while Mkhize was only prepared to deny any wrongdoing.
Part of the explanation is that we have no real culture of accountability in this country. Politicians caught doing wrong have to be dragged kicking and screaming from their positions.
While claiming to be on an anti-corruption crusade, the ANC is okay with allowing people like Mkhize – implicated in corruption – to stay in their positions as long as they have not been charged.
It also prefers to take its leaders through its integrity commission – which has no investigative or forensic skills to properly probe complicated allegations of fraud, money laundering and corruption. The integrity commission also has no real powers as its recommendations have to be approved by the ANC national executive committee.
As the South African public, we should not be fooled by these internal mechanisms. We should demand that the likes of Mkhize step down, not step aside. So, today we will celebrate the small victory that he has been placed on special leave, whatever that means. It represents a start. No politician should have their hands in the cookie jar and still remain unaccountable.
Ramaphosa, who is finally and properly assuming power in the ANC, must insist his anti-corruption stance be backed by real action. If he doesn’t, he will remembered for his great vision and noble intentions, but failed delivery.