Ndabeni-Abrahams lockdown debacle: What we know

Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams is again embroiled in a saga that has become the centre of public attention. The communications minister was pictured at a luncheon at the home of former deputy minister of higher education Mduduzi Manana — a violation of South Africa’s 21-day national lockdown. 

Ndabeni–Abrahams has been summoned to a meeting with President Cyril Ramaphosa.

The picture, which has been deleted, was posted by Manana on Instagram on Sunday. In it, Manana can be seen with his family and Ndabeni-Abrahams. 

Manana captioned the picture: “It was great to host a former colleague and dear sister Cde Stella Ndabeni- Abrahams (Minister of Communication and Digital Technologies) on her way back from executing critical and essential services required for the effective functioning of our country during the nationwide lockdown.”

A statement issued by the Mduduzi Manana Foundation on Tuesday afternoon — after the post sparked public anger — seems to contradict the information in the caption. Manana says in the statement that he got a call from Ndabeni-Abrahams who told him she was visiting a site in Fourways where students are working on the Covid-19 digital services. 

“The minister relayed to me that the students are in need of personal protective equipment (PPE) such as gloves, masks and sanitisers, which my foundation has been handing over to marginalised communities,” reads the statement. “I then asked the minister to pass by my private residence to collect the material, which she gladly did.” 

Manana has now raised more questions than answers, given that he initially claimed that she had visited when she was “on her way back” from performing her duty. Ndabeni-Abrahams is yet to break her silence on the matter.

On Tuesday, Ramaphosa confirmed that he had seen the picture and had requested she come “discuss the impact of visuals like these”. 

This has not been a good year for Ndabeni-Abrahams. In February she drew condemnation from the South African National Editors Forum after she blocked journalists from covering a protest at an ANC manifesto launch, in the Eastern Cape. She apologised for the incident.

Later that month, she faced ridicule after a gaffe on eNCA. Asked by Xoli Mngambi if she had used taxpayer’s money to fly her husband to Switzerland to celebrate their wedding anniversary, she replied: “I said I’ve never been in Switzerland, my husband has never been to Switzerland, we went to Geneva and New York.”

Again, she would “profusely apologise” for the error and insisted she meant to say that they had not travelled to France.

In an interview with City Press, published on the morning of her lunch with Manana, Ndabeni-Abrahams attempted to shoo away her critics by claiming she’s not in her job to make friends.

“There is the Trinity – God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. But others think there is also God Stella,” she said.

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Chris Gilili
Chris Gilili is a climate and environmental journalist at the Mail & Guardian’s environmental unit, covering socioeconomic issues and general news. Previously, he was a fellow at amaBhungane, the centre for investigative journalism.
Luke Feltham
Luke Feltham is a features writer at the Mail & Guardian

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