S African Health Minister placed on special leave over corruption allegations

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Johannesburg, Jun 8 (PTI) South African President Cyril Ramaphosa on Tuesday put his Health Minister Zweli Mkhize on special leave over allegations of multi-million-rand corruption in tender deals involving a company controlled by his former associates.

While there have been calls from the Opposition and the public for Mkhize to resign or be dismissed by Ramaphosa, the president has said repeatedly that he would await the outcome of an investigation before any further action.

“This period of special leave will enable the minister to attend to allegations and investigations concerning contracts between the Department of Health and a service provider, Digital Vibes,” the president said in a statement.

“The Special Investigating Unit is investigating this matter and the President awaits a report on the outcome of this probe,” the statement said as public anger snowballed in the past few days after disclosures that Digital Vibes, a company headed by Tahera Mather and Naadhira Mitha, received an alleged irregular 150-million-rand (USD 11 million) tender from his department.

Mkhize, the public face of the government on the COVID-19 pandemic, has been widely hailed for his efforts and regular public statements on the status of the pandemic in the country. In some circles, he was even being touted as the prime candidate to be the next president of the country.

Mather and Mitha reportedly worked closely with Mkhize during his 2017 bid to become President of the African National Congress (ANC). Ramaphosa was elected the president at that conference. The allegations include claims that Mkhize’s family benefited from the tender awarded to Digital Vibes.

Although Mkhize has denied any benefit from the contract, reports have indicated that his son Dedane received a motor vehicle from Digital Vibes.

Mkhize's signature appears on the contracts, which an independent investigation by financial auditors and tax consultants found to be irregular.

Shortly before the announcement by Ramaphosa, Mkhize apologised for the Digital Vibes scandal at a media briefing.

“I fully acknowledge and take personal responsibility for the public outrage that has been caused by this Digital Vibes contract. I also want to state it up front that I do not in any way undermine the voices, the views, the disappointment, the anger and the calls for accountability that have been made by the citizens,” the minister said.

Mkhize said the incident had also “tainted” the government efforts to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It has also caused a bit of disruption, so for all of this I want to unreservedly apologise,” Mkhize said. PTI FH MRJ MRJ

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