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PRESIDENT CYRIL RAMAPHOSA MUST FIRE THE MINISTER ON LEAVE, DR ZWELI MKHIZE

The South African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU) call on President Cyril Ramaphosa to fire the Health Minister who was put on special leave after obvious cronyism and Covid-19 funding abuse emerged in his ministry. Dr Zweli Mkhize’s role in the scandal is unforgiveable.

In an article on 4 July, the Sunday Times revealed that the report submitted to President Cyril Ramaphosa by the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) confirms how Mkhize was directly linked to the Digital Vibes corruption scandal, in contrast to his denials.

Digital Vibes was irregularly awarded a contract to manage communication in relation to a vitally-needed component of our state, the National Health Insurance (NHI) system. The contract was later augmented to raise awareness about Covid-19. In the SIU report, two email exchanges between deputy director general of the health department, Anban Pillay, and Digital Vibes’ Tahera Mather, the firm unjustifiably lands a contract worth tens of millions of Rands.

It is apparent, on the basis of those email exchanges, that this occurred without an appropriate tender bidding process. When Treasury rejected Pillay’s request for approval of the contract, he still found a way to circumvent procurement protocols. Pillay has been one of the most visible public figures during this crisis, and to see evidence of his degeneration on behalf of Mkhize is truly sickening.

Even more disconcerting was the “shameless attitude” towards the looting of government resources by Digital Vibes, in the form of absurdly overpriced services.

In one example, Digital Vibes billed the department R1.1 million for an animation project they outsourced for just R266 000. Other billings that reveal the sheer looting include R250 000 for “wordpress completion” (i.e. work on a free website), R200 000 for raw video footage, R150 000 for placement of an opinion editorial. As a result, the SIU suggests, R90 million of the total R150 million in Department of Health contracts benefitted entities set up by Nadhira Mitha and Tahera Mather, whom Mkhize calls his “comrades” (not his “friends”).

This is a glaring example of the extent of the irregularity and flouting of procurement rules that paves the way for politicians’ cronies looting government resources. When Treasury’s Procurement Officer Kenneth Brown revealed that 35-40% of an average contract is overpric3ed, the African National Congress government failed to intervene. Three finance ministers – Pravin Gordhan, Malusi Gigaba and Tito Mboweni – have resolutely refused to touch this systemic scamming.

The comprador parasitic bourgeoisies subsists by siphoning from the public purse. Unfortunately, without national consciousness and a sense of patriotism, the comprador elites of neocolonial countries like ours are not productive capitalists, but instead as Frantz Fanon described them in The Wretched of the Earth, merely crony thieves sucking dry the public purse for personal enrichment. No wonder that when PwC does biannual economic crime surveys, South Africa has regularly been the world’s leading economy for such looting.

From the time this corruption was first revealed by investigative journalists at Daily Maverick, Mkhize denied having known or benefitted from the deals. However, investigations now unveil that Digital Vibes bought his son a bakkie and contributed money for the refurbishment of a house by his family trust. This prompted President Cyril Ramaphosa to force him to take a “leave of absence”, though he still maintained his innocence as far as the awarding of the tender was concerned.

However, in the SIU report before the president, a WhatsApp text is said to directly link Mkhize to the tender award. The Sunday Times reports that the SIU believes that text “was part of the pressure [the Minister] exerted to ensure [Digital Vibes]” was awarded the contract.

If President Ramaphosa is serious about rooting out the fraud that is endemic in the public and private sectors, indeed firing Zweli Mkhize is one minimal and obvious step, to affirm he retains the required degree of power within his corruption-riddled faction-torn party. If he does so, and continues the trajectory of cleansing

government, our society may get through this pandemic with fewer deaths, better public information, and a public health service that can deliver quality basic services, not just Digital Vibes scamming.