Remember that dodgy Digital Vibes contract? Former Health Minister Zweli Mkhize was forced to step down in August amid an uproar after his close associates bagged a R150m communications contract. It put President Cyril Ramaphosa under pressure and he put government’s Special Investigating Unit on the case – probably reluctantly as Mkhize was both a respected health minister guiding SA through choppy Covid waters and a Ramaphosa ally.
So what did the SIU find out? Well, we didn’t know. Ramaphosa sat on the report for three months! This week he finally authorised the release of its investigation and… it’s damning.
The SIU even hints that Mkhize may have lied to it – and that he definitely misled the public. 😬
Mkhize was closely involved in improperly authorising the contract to Digital Vibes, at more than double the price of a rival bidder, the report found. Digital Vibes is controlled by Mkhize’s family friends, Tahera Mather and Naadhira Mitha. The findings also confirm media reports that Mkhize and his family cashed in from the deal: his son, Dedani, received at least R3.8-million. 😳 (In one of our most WTF moments from this entire saga, the Daily Maverick’s Pieter-Louis Myburgh reported that some of this money was used to buy Louis Vuitton scarves for a lamb on Dedani’s farm! 😵)
So what happens next? The SIU are like the police within the justice system process, when it comes to high profile cases involving government money. Its recommendations get referred to the National Prosecuting Authority, which must prove the case to a judge and then we get the good accountability stuff in terms of actual penalties like jail time. Mkhize, his family, Mather and Mitha could face money laundering and related charges. The SIU also recommended that former acting director-general Dr Anban Pillay face criminal charges of financial misconduct and fraud.
BUT the health department seems set to act sooner on SIU recommendations to discipline the top officials who awarded the tender. eNCA reported earlier today that Pillay would be vacating his office by close of business.
It’s a pretty good day for accountability, even if it did take our president ages to allow the process to unfold. And don’t get us started on how he still keeps defending Mkhize, saying this past week he’d served his nation well. Read the room, Cyril. 😏