OPINION | Ndabeni-Abrahams broke lockdown laws, so there is only one thing to do: Fire her, Mr President

07 April 2020 - 18:39
Communications minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams with President Cyril Ramaphosa at her swearing in.
Image: Alaister Russell/The Sunday Times Communications minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams with President Cyril Ramaphosa at her swearing in.

Why Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams remains in the cabinet remains the biggest mystery of Cyril Ramaphosa’s “New Dawn”.

She has embarrassed Ramaphosa and his government several times before — and she is capable of causing more damage.

The latest episode is an indication that Ndabeni-Abrahams has no sense of occasion and no grasp of the task on her shoulders as a leader in government to lead by example.

How will President Cyril Ramaphosa stand on a podium and order ordinary South Africans to stay at home when one of his ministers has no regard of the national lockdown regulations?

The excuse given by her friend, former deputy minister Mduduzi Manana — that Ndabeni-Abrahams went to his home to collect protective gear for students she was working with — is pathetic and the president must not accept it.

The signs are that Ndabeni-Abrahams is a misfit in Ramaphosa’s government — but for some reason, no action has ever been taken against her.

A few months after she was appointed minister of communications, Ndabeni-Abrahams must have thought the position made her the SABC’s editor-in-chief. She blocked the broadcaster’s video journalist from taking footage of protesters outside the office of the ANC in the Eastern Cape in February last year.

She was not done: later last year, she complained about journalists who were taking pictures of her flame-engulfed Mthatha home — a clear attempt to censor the media from doing their job by the minister of communications.

As if that was not enough, a Sunday publication revealed how she took her husband Thato Abrahams with her to Geneva, Switzerland — and that her husband used a chauffeur-driven state sponsored vehicle to drive to France for a shopping spree. The minister has denied these claims.

There were no reports of Ramaphosa having reprimanded Ndabeni-Abrahams when these embarrassing moments made headlines.

Ramaphosa must look at the precedents that have been set in other parts of the world when influential leaders breached the regulations.

In New Zealand, prime minister Jacinda Ardern demoted her health minister David Clark after he drove his family to the beach 20km from his house — breaching the country’s lockdown rules.

In Scotland, the country’s chief medical officer Catherine Calderwood stepped down after photos of her visiting her second home were published.

Ndabeni-Abrahams’s actions could have dire consequences on our shores. What would stop citizens from breaching the regulations if Ndabeni-Abrahams can get away with it?

We come from an era where leaders acted with impunity. Ramaphosa promised us a clean government that would not tolerate such actions.

Over 17,000 ordinary citizens have been arrested for breaking the lockdown regulations so far. Ramaphosa has to show that the no-one is above the law.

Fire her, Mr President.

Shoba is the Sunday Times political editor.