In what has become one of the biggest scandals in South Africa’s history, since the emergence of the novel Corona Virus, the Digital Vibes Scandal has raised eyebrows, speculations, and a whole lot of conspiracies.
The admixture of the speculations, eyebrows, and conspiracies seems to be distorting the process of unearthing the truth behind the R150 million Digital Vibe scandal.
Over the years, we have seen politicians, and some other public office holders misappropriate public funds. The fact that they also inflate budgets and misuse their constitutional power for selfish gain is not a novelty.
The embattled ex-Health Minister, Zweli Mkhize’s actions leave me to wonder if there is still anything human left in the hearts of our politicians, who on a daily basis take decisions that are not only injurious to human lives but damn fatal.
Being the health minister of a country especially during the COVID-19 period requires one to be sensitive, proactive, responsive and above all, understand what it takes to have a great dose of human empathy.
The antecedents of the Digital Vibes scandal can be traced back to allegations and reports of the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) which conceded that the former health minister, Zweli Mkhize was involved in the R50 million communications contract the Health Department previously awarded to a service provider, Digital Vibes.
It will be recalled that the communications company, Digital Vibes, a firm headed by Tahera Mather, a friend of Mkhize, and Naadhira Mitha, Mkhize’s former personal assistant had been awarded a multimillion contract to provide services for the Ministry.
It was gathered that they received a tender worth R150 million through a closed tender process in 2019 to provide communications services for the national government’s National Health Insurance rollout and later the COVID-19 pandemic.
It was also reported that Mather and Mitha have subsequently been accused by the company’s owner and director Radha Hariram of then embezzling about R80m from the company, while Mhize’s son Dedani and daughter-in-law Sthoko Mkhize have also been accused of benefitting extensively.
The SIU report found that Mkhize and his family benefitted to the tune of R4 million from the tainted R150 million Digital Vibes contract.
The positions of the SIU however, prompted the then ex-minister to resign his seat as Health Minister. A move that we rarely see on the African continent. In another recent report, more findings showed that Mkhize’s longtime associate Tahera Mather blew over a million rand on a shopping spree in what many believe was funds acquired from the Digital Vibe saga.
However, it could still be argued that for a woman of her calibre, it is possible for her to afford to spend R1million at a go. Moreover, she is a top executive in a top communication firm, so her reputation precedes her.
In the mix of all these narratives, all eyes are on President Cyril Ramaphosa as the exigencies of the scandal demand that legal steps are taken for justice to prevail. But however, issues have been raised on how President Ramaphosa’s administration has handled corruption allegations over the course of his stay in power.
For many, Ramaphosa is not leaving up to the expectations of his fight against corruption mantra he declared when he came into power. Many believe his administration is worse than that of the embattled ex-President, Jacob Zuma.
To be more factual, opposition parties have labelled the African National Congress (ANC) as the most corrupt under the leadership of Cyril Ramaphosa. A clear example is the corruption allegation linked to Ramphosa’s former spokesperson, Khusela Diko, who was allegedly involved in a R125 million scandal of personal protective equipment (PPE) contracts.
Recall that a report by DailyMarverick gathered that the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) upon investigation found that they were irregularities in the R43-million worth of PPE contracts awarded to Royal Bhaca, owned by Diko’s late husband, Chief Madzikane Thandisizwe Diko, who died in February.
It was alleged that the company massively inflated prices in the budgetary of the contract. Diko however maintained her innocence, blaming the failure to disclose business interests on outdated company ownership data as her shortcoming.
In the midst of all these allegations, Dikko was never prosecuted or charged to a tribunal for trial, rather she was given a written warning by the Presidency for failing to disclose business interests as is required of civil servants.
But the most controversial aspect of Dikko’s case was the fact that, instead of facing a possible trial, she relinquished her position as spokesperson, resumed office in another department and the whistleblower who turned her in was shot dead.
South Africans are watching, aggrieved families of those who lost loved ones to the pandemic are also watching, taxpayers, market women, the youths are also watching. This is a huge test of leadership for Ramaphosa as it is the perfect opportunity to make a bold statement and make up for his shortcomings and stay true to his fight against corruption, a mantra he promised to uphold when he assumed office.
Just some few days ago during the ‘Heritage Day’ celebration, Ramaphosa reiterated his commitment to fighting corruption, stating that crime is not a trait of South Africans and its heritage.
He was quoted saying: “We saw people destroying the very country we are trying to build. In the aftermath of the violence, we have had to ask ourselves: Who are we as a people? What is it that defines our national character? What is it that defines our identity? What is it that we stand for?”
“As South Africans, we respect others and their rights and believe in the Constitution as the supreme law of the land.”
“We are not involved in crime and we report those who are. We do not engage in acts of corruption, especially as public servants or representatives who have been entrusted with the welfare of our beloved country’s citizens,” he added.
This is the perfect opportunity to prove his ‘Heritage Day’ remark, Zweli Mkhize, and his accomplices must face trial, it is the right thing to do as it will also give credence to the judicial system of South Africa and South Africa as a country.