Communications Minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams has been temporarily relieved of her duties for two months after her violation of South Africa’s 21-day national lockdown.
Ndabeni-Abrahams, who leads the communications and digital technologies portfolio, was summoned by President Cyril Ramaphosa after a picture was published on Instagram, in which she was seen having lunch with former higher education deputy minister Mduduzi Manana and a group of others.
“President Cyril Ramaphosa has placed Minister of Communications and Digital Technologies, Ms Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams, on special leave for two months — one month of which will be unpaid. As to allegations that the minister violated the lockdown regulations, the law should take its course. This follows the revelation on social media that the minister had recently visited the home of a friend who hosted a lunch, contrary to the lockdown regulations,” said the Presidency in a statement.
The statement, issued by Presidency spokesperson Khusela Diko, said Minister in the Presidency Jackson Mthembu will be acting in Ndabeni-Abrahams’s position.
“The nationwide 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.
“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,” said Ramaphosa
The Mail & Guardian had earlier learnt from reliable sources that the decision had been taken after Ramaphosa consulted with the ANC on Tuesday.
“It was just a matter of logistics in terms of the months and who will act in her capacity. It [the suspension] was communicated to her yesterday [Tuesday] because the ANC must be seen to be acting on these matters where comrades just cause a mess,” said one official.
The picture, which has since 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 — appears to contradict the information in the caption. Manana says in the statement that he received 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 the minister had visited when she was “on her way back” from performing her duty. Ndabeni-Abrahams is yet to break her silence on the matter.
Ndabeni-Abrahams has released a video apology for breaching the lockdown. Her apology was addressed to “President Cyril Ramaphosa, the National Command Centre [and] South African society at large”.
“I regret the incident and I am deeply sorry for my actions. I hope the president and you South Africans will find it in your hearts to forgive me,” the minister said.
“I wish to use this opportunity to reiterate the president’s call for all of us to observe the lockdown rules. They are a necessary intervention to curb the spread of a virus that has devastated many nations,” Ndabeni-Abrahams added.