Former Health Minister Zweli Mkhize at a National Health Insurance (NHI) workshop. Photo: GCIS

Following President Cyril Ramaphosa’s authorisation for the Special Investigative Unit (SIU) report into Digital Vibes to be released today, the DA has called on the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) to pursue criminal investigations and prosecutions against South Africa’s former Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize.

In fact the opposition party called for all Department of Health members of the ‘Digital Vibes 4’ to be investigated – these include Mkhize, as well as Director-General, Dr Sandile Buthelezi, Deputy-Director General Dr Anban Pillay, and the Department’s CFO, Ian Van Der Merwe.

The President on Wednesday authorised publication of the SIU’s final report into the Department of Health’s awarding of a National Health Insurance (NHI) media campaign and subsequent COVID-19 communications to Digital Vibes.

The President received a report and referral on the Digital Vibes matter from the SIU in early July 2021.

“The Presidency subsequently sent third-party notices to all persons or entities referred to in the report, so they could have an opportunity to object to its publication or part thereof. This was done in the interest of fairness and in terms of the Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA), following a number of PAIA applications by persons and parties who wished to have sight of the report,” the Presidency said.

mkhize digital vibes report
Former Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize should face criminal investigation, says the opposition. Photo: SA News

In June, the SIU was granted a preservation order to freeze approximately R22 million held in bank and investment accounts linked to Digital Vibes (Pty) Ltd. The Special Tribunal granted the order on 17 June 2021.

Calling the ANC a “criminal syndicate”, Siviwe Gwarube – DA Shadow Minister of Health – said the report shows the “depth of corruption in the governing party – present in all fields and spheres of government”.

Gwarube chastised the president for not only sitting on the report for 3 months, but publicly thanking Mkhize when he stepped down because of the scandal, despite knowing the “scathing contents” of the report. On top of that, the report was probably only published because of DA and AfriForum requests.

Apart from calling on the NPA to investigate and charge the Digital Vibes 4, Gwarube also asked for feedback on the criminal charges that the DA laid on 3 June against Mkhize and Buthelezi.

The DA also called on Health Minister Dr Joe Phaahla to “clean up the rot” in the Health Department.

“The report has confirmed what we have always known: that all those who have been implicated in this corruption scandal must be criminally investigated and prosecuted,” said Gwarube. He said the report shows that senior health department management (including Mkhize) were involved in awarding the contract to Digital Vibes, and “are possibly guilty of corruption”.

In a statement on Wednesday, the DA summed up the findings in the report as follows…

Key findings in the SIU Digital Vibes Report include:

That former minister Mkhize lied about not having benefited from the Digital Vibes contract. In fact, both he and his son benefited according to the SIU.

  • R300 000 was transferred to Mkhize’s son.
  • R160 000 transferred to a car dealership. The care was registered in the name Mkhize’s son.
  • Digital Vibes paid for repairs to Mkhize’s home whilst he was still minister.

There was a complete lack of oversight on the part of the minister:

  • Service Level Agreements (SLA) were only signed after money had been paid to Digital Vibes. This was a major red flag.
  • Mkhize went above Cabinet’s decision to allow GCIS to handle the NHI media campaign and then sanctioned Digital Vibes to take over this responsibility.
  • It is inexplicable as to why the then minister would have allowed the “extension” of the Digital Vibes SLA with the department in respect of the NHI media campaign to include the Covid-19 media campaign. It would have been far more cost-effective if the GCIS had rendered the required services.
  • The department spent approximately R 125 million in respect of its Covid-19 media campaign, despite a quotation of only approximately R35 million for these services had been approved.
  • Mkhize claimed that costing was done for the Digital Vibes contract however the SIU saw no evidence of it. Therefore, the price was clearly inflated from R35 million to R125 million under Digital Vibes.

Department staff have also been implicated:

  • The SIU report found that Dr Buthelezi contravened provisions of the Public Finance Management Act (PFMA).
  • The report also found that Dr Pillay contravened the PFMA, committed fraud and there was a recommendation for a criminal investigation.
  • The Department’s CFO, Van Der Merwe, was also identified for contravening the PFMA.

AfriForum welcomes disclosure of Digital Vibes report

AfriForum also welcomed the report “but condemned the fact that a PAIA application had to be brought before this could happen”.

Johan Kruger, Head of Community Development at AfriForum, said it is a pity that the report was published after such a long time. “It is unacceptable that these types of applications must first be launched before the public can access information to which they are actually entitled,” Kruger said.

Kruger further says that the corruption exposed in the report is a clear confirmation that AfriForum’s tax protest campaign is needed more than ever.

“The waste of tax money by corrupt public servants has become part of life in South Africa, we simply can no longer accept this. Tax protest action is therefore justified and AfriForum will intensify its campaign,” Kruger said.