Thapelo Lekabe

By Thapelo Lekabe

Senior Digital Journalist

Digital Vibes: Health DG Sandile Buthelezi cleared of wrongdoing at disciplinary hearing

Buthelezi was placed on suspension in September after being implicated in the awarding of the R150 million contract to Digital Vibes.

The director-general (DG) of the Department of Health, Dr Sandile Buthelezi, has been reinstated to his job after he was suspended for being implicated in the Digital Vibes saga.

The department on Tuesday announced that Buthelezi, who returned to work on Monday, was cleared of all charges levelled against him at an internal disciplinary hearing that was chaired by a retired judge.

Dr Nicholas Crisp, who is the deputy DG responsible for National Health Insurance (NHI), was acting in Buthelezi’s role while he was on suspension.

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Buthelezi was placed on precautionary suspension back in September after being implicated, along with other officials, in the awarding of the controversial R150 million communications contract to Digital Vibes – a company owned by former health minister Zweli Mkhize’s close associates.

The Special Investigating Unit (SIU) carried out the probe into the irregular tender earlier this year after shocking claims that Mkhize and his family personally benefited from the contract, which was for the department’s NHI communication work and later, Covid-19 media campaigns.

“The Ministry of Health would like to wish Dr Buthelezi all the best in fulfilling his duties,” the spokesperson for the Department of Health, Foster Mohale, said in a statement.

SIU findings

In its 114-page report, the SIU found that after assuming his duties as the DG of the department in 2020, Buthelezi instructed that all NHI and Covid-19 media campaign matters should be centralised in his office.

“Thereafter, he contravened the provisions of section 81(1)(b) of the Public Finance Management Act (PFMA) by allowing payments to Digital Vibes amounting to approximately R60 million, in circumstances where such payments constituted irregular expenditure, as envisaged in the PFMA, and parts thereof also constituted fruitless and wasteful expenditure, as envisaged in the PFMA.

“In the circumstances, Dr Buthelezi should have conducted a comprehensive due diligence exercise before allowing such any payments,” the SIU said.

The SIU also found that Mkhize, his associates and direct family members personally benefited from the Digital Vibes tender.

This resulted in the health department incurring irregular expenditure amounting to approximately R150 million and fruitless and wasteful expenditure ranging between R72 million and R80 million.

In October, Mkhize approached the High Court in Johannesburg to set aside the SIU’s findings and declare it unconstitutional and unlawful. The SIU is opposing Mkhize’s review application.

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