Zweli Mkhize “acted improperly at best and unlawfully at worst” but walks away scot-free

Lungani Zungu

The Special Investigating Unit’s (SIU) report on Digital Vibes found that former Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize lied and acted “at best improper and at worst unlawful”.

Yet, despite its damning findings, the SIU did not recommend any criminal charges against Mkhize – letting him walk away from the R150 million contract scot-free.

The 114-page report dated 30 June was officially released by President Cyril Ramaphosa on Wednesday morning. 

Mkhize was also accused of pressuring former director-general Precious Matsoso to appoint Digital Vibes to manage the National Health Insurance (NHI) communication strategy and later Covid-19 in 2020.

In a WhatsApp message dated 15 July 2019 to Matsoso, Mkhize said: “Hi DG. Kindly sort out contractual arrangements. Please ask for a preliminary NHI implementation plan and draft communication plan by Friday from each individual as discussed.”

Digital Vibes is a communication company owned by Mkhize’s close associates Tahera Mather and Naadhira Mitha. 

The SIU challenged Ramaphosa, saying he should take “executive action” against Mkhize.

However, this recommendation may not stick as Mkhize is no longer a member of Ramaphosa’s Cabinet following his resignation in June amid the Digital Vibes controversial contract. 

The only person the SIU said should be criminally charged is the health department’s former acting director-director Dr Anban Pillay.

He stands accused of deviating from the normal procurement process during the awarding of the Digital Vibes contract. 

Pillay is also implicated in the report for contravening sections of the Public Finance Management Act by approving payments to Digital Vibes.

The SIU followed the money trail from Digital Vibes to Mkhize’s family:

  • The report states that Digital Vibes paid R6,720 for repairs at a house belonging to Mkhize.
  • Transferred R300,000 in cash to Mkhize’s son Dedani.
  • Bought a R160,000 second-hand Land Cruiser for Dedani’s Pietermaritzburg farm.

Other implicated people are: 

  • Popo Maja, head of communications at the department and member of the Tender Evaluation Committee (TEC).
  • Shireen Pardesi, chief director and TEC member.
  • Senzeni Ngubane, TEC member.
  • Dr Sandile Buthelezi, director general at the department.
  • P Ngobese, administration clerk at the department and personal assistant to Ms Pardesi. 
  • Reginald Ngcobo, TEC member.
  • Ian Van der Merwe, chief financial officer of the department.

Attempts to reach Mkhize were unsuccessful as his phone repeatedly rang to voicemail.

Image source: @DrZweliMkhize