SIU must investigate Digital Vibes without fear or favour, says presidency

Any talk of health minister Zweli Mkhize stepping down is something that must take place between himself and President Cyril Ramaphosa: Ntshavheni

27 May 2021 - 18:01
By amanda khoza AND Amanda Khoza
Acting minister in the presidency Khumbudzo Ntshavheni says the SIU should investigate the controversial Digital Vibes contract without being intimidated. File photo.
Image: FREDDY MAVUNDA Acting minister in the presidency Khumbudzo Ntshavheni says the SIU should investigate the controversial Digital Vibes contract without being intimidated. File photo.

Whether health minister Zweli Mkhize, who has been implicated in the controversial Digital Vibes tender,  should step aside is a matter that should be discussed between himself and President Cyril Ramaphosa, not by the cabinet.

This is according to acting minister in the presidency Khumbudzo Ntshavheni, who was answering questions on whether the cabinet had discussed the serious allegations involving Mkhize, who on Wednesday distanced himself from the R150m contract awarded to Digital Vibes.

The company used two of Mkhize's close contacts after being awarded work first around the National Health Insurance (NHI) and later regarding the government's response and plans to combat Covid-19 after the pandemic outbreak last year. 

“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 or not 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.

Speaking during a post-cabinet media briefing on Thursday, Ntshavheni said Mkhize articulated his position on whether he was implicated. 

On Wednesday, Mkhize said he did not personally benefit from the R150m contract awarded to Digital Vibes. He was responding to continuous investigations conducted by the Daily Maverick and subsequent media reports.

In February, the publication broke the story about how Digital Vibes had been appointed in 2019 through a closed tender to provide communication services for the government’s NHI rollout, with the scope of the work extended in March 2020 to include communications services regarding the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The department of health is not investigating itself. The investigations that are under way are done by law enforcement agencies and therefore there is no possibility of interference,” Ntshavheni said.

“It is not the place of cabinet to discuss that, it is to allow law enforcement agencies to conclude their investigations and do what is necessary from the outcomes from those investigations.” 

On matters discussed by the cabinet, she said it welcomed the handing over of title deeds to 30 black farmers in Tafelkop in the Groblersdal district of Limpopo as part of the government's land reform process.

The cabinet also noted various budget votes tabled in parliament detailing how taxpayer funds would be allocated.

On crime, the government condemned the recent killings in Khayelitsha in the Western Cape and Zandspruit in Gauteng, which claimed the combined lives of 21 people.

Ntshavheni also revealed that work has begun for Stats SA to conduct a pilot census in selected areas in preparation for the full census. Registration for the pilot census will run from May 17 to June 30, and citizens can register online here.

“We are requesting that when the calls come through, South Africans should not be scammed and open their doors to criminals. The calls will only be telephonic and there won’t be anyone visiting until the main census,” she said.

The cabinet also noted the progress made in stabilising the North West after the national government’s intervention. It approved intervention by the national government in the Emfuleni local municipality.

“The poor state of governance and financial management at Emfuleni local municipality has resulted in minimal maintenance of the water and sanitation infrastructure. This has resulted in continuous sewage spillages to surrounding communities and the Vaal river, which pose a serious health hazard to more than 120,000 households,” said Ntshavheni

She said the department of water and sanitation had been directed to oversee this intervention and report back to the cabinet annually.

“Cabinet further approved the setting up of an interministerial committee that will consider the broad challenges of water facing a number of municipalities. The terms of reference and members of this committee will be announced in due course.”

The government said Ramaphosa will on Friday host French president Emmanuel Macron. The visit aims to strengthen the strategic partnership between France and SA.

Next month, Ramaphosa will host the prime minister of Sudan, Dr Abdalla Hamdok, to enhance bilateral relations, among other issues.

The cabinet also acknowledged the appointment of Elizabeth Ngwenya as deputy director-general for corporate management at the department of tourism and Irene Mpolweni as the DG at the department of military veterans.