Communications minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams has been placed on special leave for two months after breaching South Africa’s 21-day coronavirus lockdown regulations.
One month of this leave will be unpaid, the presidency said in a statement on Wednesday (8 April). It added that ‘the law should take its course’ around the allegations that Ndabeni-Abrahams violated the lockdown regulations.
Ndabeni-Abrahams came under fire on social media after a picture circulated which showed her visiting a friend for lunch during the national lockdown. Former Deputy Minister of Higher Education and Training Mduduzi Manana posted a picture to Instagram of Ndabeni-Abrahams and others having a meal at his house.
Ndabeni-Abrahams has denied that the lunch was a social visit and has indicated that she was there for ‘essential work’.
“The president summoned the Minister yesterday, Tuesday 07 April 2020. The President expressed his disapproval of the Minister’s actions, which undermine the requirement that all citizens stay at home and save South Africa from the spread of the coronavirus.
“The president accepted the Minister’s apology for the violation but was unmoved by mitigating factors she tendered,” the presidency said.
Minister in the presidency Jackson Mthembu will act in Ndabeni-Abrahams’ position during her leave period. Ndabeni-Abrahams is also expected to issue an official apology to the nation.
“The nation-wide lockdown calls for absolute compliance on the part of all South Africans. Members of the National Executive carry a special responsibility in setting an example to South Africans, who are having to make great sacrifices,” said President Cyril Ramaphosa.
“None of us – not least a member of the National Executive – should undermine our national effort to save lives in this very serious situation. I am satisfied that Minister Ndabeni-Abrahams appreciates the seriousness of what she has done and that no-one is above the law.”
While it remains to be seen how the ‘law will take its course’, government has indicated that those found breaking the country’s lockdown regulations will face fines or even jail time.
Police minister Bheki Cele has previously indicated that South Africans face strict punishments for breaching these prohibitions including a fine, or imprisonment of up to six months.