Placing Mkhize on special leave the right move

Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize
Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize
Image: Sandile Ndlovu

With a third wave of Covid-19 spreading across SA even as the country looks to accelerate the rollout  of vaccines, the hullabaloo over the scandal that has embroiled health minister Zweli Mkhize is a decidedly unwelcome distraction.

Mkhize has earned widespread respect for his role at the helm of the government’s response to the pandemic.

However, in recent weeks, he has been under growing pressure after reports that  Digital Vibes, a company run by Tahera Mather and Naadhira Mitha — who both worked on Mkhize’s 2017 ANC presidential campaign —  won a multimillion-rand contract for communication from the health department.

This was initially intended for publicity about the planned National Health Insurance scheme, but morphed into communication about Covid-19.

The auditor-general recommended that the health department look into the expenditure, and Mkhize has since acknowledged that the money paid to the company was largely wasted and proper procurement processes were not followed.

Mkhize has distanced himself from the decision to award the contract.

The Daily Maverick, which broke the story, reported that Digital Vibes allegedly paid for renovations at a house belonging to Mkhize’s family trust and a vehicle for  his son.

The Special Investigating Unit is looking into the matter  and has promised to complete its probe by month-end.

President Cyril Ramaphosa, who came to power promising to sweep away corruption, is under pressure to act against those in his own camp who are tainted by allegations of malfeasance.

Raising the stakes is that the ANC is busy implementing rules which state that, in the interests of the party, members must step aside when accused of corruption.

The ANC’s integrity commission said on Monday it had received a letter from Mkhize indicating he would   appear before it with regard to the Digital Vibes tender.

Meanwhile, the ANC’s national working committee reportedly said the issue needed to be handled by Ramaphosa.

 About three years ago, Nhlanhla Nene did a rare thing when he fell on his proverbial sword and asked to be relieved of his duties as then finance minister after disclosures about meeting the Guptas.

But this was something of an exception. SA is not accustomed to ministers doing “the right thing” in situations such as the one in which Mkhize finds himself caught up.  

However, Mkhize on Tuesday  revealed he had proposed going on special leave until the SIU completed its investigation and Ramaphosa subsequently announced Mkhize had been placed on special leave. 

Though it is far from ideal to have the health minister out of action at this critical stage in the battle against Covid-19, we  welcome the move as a signal that the government is taking allegations of maladministration and corruption seriously.

And, if the SIU findings point to misconduct on the part of the minister, then he must go.

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