South African health minister Zweli Mkhize, once considered a possible successor to president Cyril Ramaphosa, is facing pressure to stand down after being linked to a tendering scandal.
The Daily Maverick reported this month that the health department awarded a R150 million ($10.9 million) contract to Digital Vibes, a company controlled by two of Mkhize’s former aides, to help communicate the government’s pandemic response.
The money was largely wasted and proper procurement processes weren’t followed, the Cape Town-based news website said.
The nation’s Special Investigative Unit was appointed to probe the matter, and on May 26 Mkhize told reporters the deal was irregular and disciplinary action would be taken against those responsible.
While describing public outrage as “justified,” he denied playing any role in the company’s appointment or that he was friends with the people working there.
The Daily Maverick published another report late Friday stating that Digital Vibes settled invoices for maintenance work at a property owned by Mkhize’s family trust and transferred at least R300,000 to a company owned by his son in May last year.
Lwazi Manzi, the minister’s spokeswoman, didn’t respond to a text message seeking comment about the latest revelations. Calls to the company went unanswered.
Siviwe Gwerube, the shadow health minister for the main opposition Democratic Alliance, called on Mkhize to step aside until the Special Investigative Unit, the SIU, submits its final report, which it is due to do in the next few weeks.
“It cannot be that the very person entrusted with the Covid-19 response in the country is embroiled in this kind of scandal involving public money,” she said in a statement.
Mkhize is a political heavyweight in South Africa; He served as treasurer-general of the ruling African National Congress prior to becoming health minister and ran for the party leadership in 2017, a contest that was won by Ramaphosa.
A medical doctor, he has spearheaded the nation’s coronavirus response and initially won widespread praise for his sombre approach toward tackling the pandemic. He contracted Covid-19 as he crisscrossed the country to assess the state of the health system and made scores of public appearances to educate the public about the disease.
His star waned somewhat as infections skyrocketed — the country has had more than 1.6 million confirmed cases so far. The government was also slow off the mark to begin administering vaccines, in part because of protracted wrangling with suppliers over contractual terms.
Ramaphosa said Mkhize had briefed him about the Digital Vibes contract and he was awaiting the submission of the SIU’s final report.
“I want to take time to consider what they come up with, and after that will be able to handle the matter,” he told reporters in Pretoria on Friday after holding talks with his French counterpart, president Emmanuel Macron.