Zweli Mkhize and Digital Vibes: five things you need to know about the scandal

28 May 2021 - 14:00 By cebelihle bhengu
Health minister Zweli Mkhize has distanced himself from a R150m contract awarded to communications company Digital Vibes. File photo.
Health minister Zweli Mkhize has distanced himself from a R150m contract awarded to communications company Digital Vibes. File photo.

Health minister Zweli Mkhize has dominated news headlines this week as citizens and some politicians called for his head amid accusations of corruption relating to the awarding of a tender to Digital Vibes. 

The minister in the presidency Khumbudzo Ntshavheni said on Thursday the matter is under investigation by the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) which will issue a report once it has finalised its probe.

Ntshavheni said the presidency wants the allegations investigated without fear or favour. 

Here are five important things you need to know about the contract:

Digital Vibes and how Mkhize fits in 

A report by the Daily Maverick reported that Digital Vibes was appointed in 2019 through a closed tender to provide communication services for the government’s National Health Insurance (NHI) rollout, further extending the scope of the work in March 2020 to include communications services for Covid-19. 

Mkhize's alleged family friend and long-serving spokesperson Tahera Mather was later employed by the company as a consultant. Digital Vibes also appointed Naadhira Mitha, a former assistant to the minister.

The R150m tender includes costs for “setting up” minister Mkhize's press briefings and engagements about Covid-19.

Health department responds to 'glaring irregularities'

The department issued a statement saying the minister had made a commitment in February that the outcomes of the investigation would be made public as soon as it was finalised.

It also noted what it called “glaring irregularities” with the contract, but would not comment further as the investigation is still ongoing. The department asked for more time before it could respond publicly to the allegations.

Calls for Mkhize's head

The DA and lobby group AfriForum earlier this week called on the minister to resign, pending an investigation. AfriForum said the ANC must demonstrate its commitment to eradicating Covid-19-related corruption. 

“The ANC should have Dr Zweli Mkhize step aside pending the outcome of the investigation against him. Anything less would be tantamount to a betrayal of the communities who suffer under the Covid-19 pandemic,” said Johan Kruger, AfriForum's head of community development.

Mkhize responds: 'There was no conflict of interest'

During a press briefing on Wednesday, the minister said he did not declare any conflict of interest because he did not believe there was one.

I also do not regard any of these individuals whose names have been mentioned publicly as personal friends, but they are certainly my comrades. I have worked with them in the ordinary course of my political or official duties, and this is not unusual.”

SIU must investigate Digital Vibes: Presidency

Ntshavheni said the cabinet was not in a position to comment on whether Mkhize will step aside, but assured the public the SIU was instructed to investigate the allegations against him “without fear or favour.” 

“We have said to them [the SIU] that they must do their work without fear, without favour and without being intimidated. Whether the minister steps aside is not a decision cabinet would express itself on. It is a decision that must take place between the minister and the president,” said Ntshavheni.