BY KARABO NGOEPE, AMANDA MALIBA and MANYANE MANYANE
Johannesburg – As Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize fights for his political life, comrades are calling for his head on the guillotine.
The revelations of Mkhize’s hand in the multimillion-rand contract awarded to communications company Digital Vibes have put the minister on a collision course with party members who want him to take responsibility for the mess and step aside.
Sources within the party told the Sunday Independent that they were closely watching how the matter was being handled. They have accused the minister of trying to shift the blame to save his skin.
“Mkhize launched an internal probe, and it found that his officials violated the Financial Management Act (FMA). However, he is trying to clear himself instead of taking responsibility,” said a source speaking on condition of anonymity.
The R150 million contract is currently under investigation by the Special Investigating Unit (SIU), which intends to take legal action to have the contract cancelled and the monies lost recovered. The company has links to Mkhize’s former spokesperson Tahera Mather.
SIU head Advocate Andy Mothibi said they would approach the Special Tribunal in the next two weeks for an application to get the contract cancelled. He added that instruction had already been given for the appointment of a legal team who will put together the application. He said they were also considering going for freezing orders.
Mothibi added that the investigation was at an advanced stage, and they hoped to complete it by the end of June. Mkhize had maintained that he had not benefited from the contract.
During a briefing this week, Mkhize said the outrage, anger, questions, comments, expression of disappointment and disgust by the public were justified.
“It is the very same red flags that the Auditor-General highlighted in December that made me request the Director-General to not just hand over this investigation to internal audit, but to urgently appoint a firm of investigators who would have the necessary capacity and independence to scrutinise all the documents related to this contract,” Mkhize said.
Despite pleading his innocence, party insiders said Mkhize could not claim not to know what was happening in his department. As a result, they are calling for him to step aside and allow the investigations to be completed so he could be cleared if he did nothing wrong.
“He wants to be a referee and a player simultaneously, and that can’t be the case. It’s the same thing that happened in Gauteng with Bandile Masuku and Khusela Diko. Masuku was found to have failed to exercise oversight, and he was subsequently removed from his position.
“A similar fate should await Mkhize. We can’t have different rules for different people or different treatment. We are all supposed to be equal and, when caught in the wrong, be punished accordingly,” said the source.
The insiders added that President Cyril Ramaphosa should reprimand Mkhize. However, Ramaphosa on Friday said he wanted the SIU to conclude its work before he can act.
His statement came as calls for Mkhize to step aside intensified, with opposition parties joining the chorus. Ramaphosa said he was waiting on the report to guide him on the type of action he should take.
“I hear there are various calls that are being made, and I heard them, and I would like to see the SIU report and to look at the matter quite closely myself, and after that, we will take the matter forward,” said Ramaphosa.
While the opposition parties and some party members call for Mkhize to step aside, ANC chairperson Gwede Mantashe said there was no weight to call for him to be relieved of his position until the SIU had finalised its investigation. He commented as he was giving a political lecture on Revolutionary Morality in the Eastern Cape this week.
Political analysts said Ramaphosa should have shown decisive leadership and acted on Mkhize.
Professor Sethulego Matebesi said it couldn’t be that a single company can be allowed to loot the state because of connections.
“The problem is that ministers can wake up and sign money out and apologise to the public afterwards. Instead, there should be consequences for the minister. Parliament also needs to act on this. The ANC should also demand answers from these allegations,” said Matebesi.
Another political analyst, Metji Makgoba said: “Mkhize has to account because he has close relationships with those parties, and this is a tragic case of how people benefit because they are politically connected. He cannot hide and hope that this will go away. He’s CEO of the Department of Health and he needs to come forward with the information on how his close friends ended up getting those contracts.”
Makgoba added: “This will negatively impact the operational work of the NEC and its different structures. We should expect more court cases against the ANC in the next few months challenging the step-aside rule because it is very grey in constitutional terms. However, if the party is serious about dealing with corruption, they must develop a culture of removing political hyenas from the organisation.
“However, they have to develop a structure that deals with transitional issues supported by the ANC constitution. It’s hard to tell people to step aside while you have not lined-up credible replacements within the remit of the Constitution of the party.”
Professor Sipho Seepe said the mood would be different if Mkhize was an individual linked to former president Jacob Zuma, but because it’s a minister on Ramaphosa’s side, he was treated with kid gloves.
“Individuals associated with former President Jacob Zuma would be treated differently. The so-called ANC veterans, so-called foundations and the media fraternity would have been up in arms. They would probably have called for the immediate suspension of the minister,” Seepe said.
Mkhize joins a list of ANC members who have found themselves on the wrong side of the law and have to contend with the step aside rule hanging over their heads like the sword of Damocles.
Seepe added that the party had been hijacked from its historic mission of bringing about total emancipation of blacks in general and Africans in particular.
“The ANC will continue to invest more time and energy on its internal battles. There will be more suspensions and appeals. Prominence will be given to this to divert attention from the fact that the country is on autopilot. At least we no longer talk of the new dawn. ANC leaders are now praying for the party,” he said.