Health minister Zweli Mkhize has been placed on special leave by President Cyril Ramaphosa, the Presidency announced on Tuesday.
The statement said this would afford Mkhize an opportunity to attend to allegations and investigations concerning contracts between the Department of Health and service provider, Digital Vibes.
The company was initially contracted to handle the department’s National Health Insurance communication work, but its scope was later expanded to include work on the department’s Covid-19 campaigns.
“The Special Investigating Unit is investigating this matter and the President awaits a report on the outcome of this probe. Minister of Tourism Ms Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane will serve as Acting Minister of Health until further notice,” the statement read.
Mkhize on Tuesday sounded like a man already handing over his ministerial duties, amid the Digital Vibes corruption probe, linked to his long-time associates’ former aide and personal assistant, Tahera Mather, and Naadhira Mitha.
“I have made sure the President is fully briefed on everything and at any one time if there is an issue that needs to be discussed I am always available,” said Mkhize.
He was addressing journalists during a walkabout at a vaccination site in Kimberly on Tuesday.
When asked, amongst others, the question of a Special Investigating Unit probe into the R150 million communications contract that was granted to Digital Vibes by his department, Mkhize responded: “For now we should not pre-empt issues, the SIU report is still on its way, it has not come.”
ANC integrity commission appearance
The embattled health minister will soon appear before the commission to answer to allegations of corruption.
Commission chair George Mashamba confirmed on Sunday that Mkhize sent a letter to the commission indicating that he would appear.
Mashamba said the commission would soon arrange a date for his appearance.
Last Friday, Mkhize failed to appear before parliament’s Health Portfolio Committee citing legal advice amid a Special Investigating Unit (SIU) probe into the contract.
Mashamba said he was not concerned that Mkhize might also not pitch up for his meeting with the integrity commission.
“I wouldn’t like to second guess him, he promised that he wants to come and I don’t want to raise doubts about that,” Mashamba said.
No personal benefits from Digital Vibes
Mkhize has been under pressure to resign from his post after he was implicated in the R150 million irregular contract awarded by his department to Digital Vibes.
The minister has denied that he personally benefitted from the contract.
This is despite fresh claims that the company purchased a second-hand Toyota Land Cruiser for his son around the same time his department transferred about R50 million to Digital Vibes for its services.
No suspensions – yet
The Department of Health denied that any officials have been suspended over the Digitals Vibes tender saga.
Over the weekend, Sunday World reported that four officials had been placed on precautionary suspension by Health Minister Zweli Mkhize for their role in the Digital Vibes saga.
Those suspended, the paper reported, included Dr Anban Pillay, the department’s deputy director-general for health regulations and compliance management, and Popo Maja, chief director for communications and stakeholder management.
Additional reporting by Thapelo Lekabe and News24 Wire