Health director general suspended for alleged involvement in Digital Vibes contract

Health department director general Sandile Buthelezi has been placed on precautionary suspension, pending a disciplinary hearing into his role in the allegedly irregular R150-million Digital Vibes contract.

Buthelezi took leave in early September when he was questioned about his alleged role in the Digital Vibes saga. However, the department of health at the time said Buthelezi was taking leave to deal with “personal matters,” reported Eyewitness News

But in a statement released on Sunday 27 September, the department confirmed that the director general has been placed on precautionary suspension “until he appears before a disciplinary hearing regarding his role in [the] Digital Vibes saga”.

An investigation into the alleged irregular Digital Vibes contract is being led by the Special Investigating Unit (SIU); it is believed that several officials in the health department benefited from the R150-million communications tender. 

The Mail & Guardian previously reported on evidence that former health minister Zweli Mkhize (who, at the time was suspended from the position), directly and indirectly received gratifications from Digital Vibes. The evidence was contained in court papers the SIU handed to the Special Tribunal on 30 July. 

Accounting to parliament

Buthelezi took office as health director general in June 2020. A year later, in early June this year, Buthelezi acted as buffer for the then minister when he, not Mkhize, appeared before parliament’s portfolio committee on health to face questions about the department’s alleged involvement in the Digital Vibes contract. 

Mkhize was legally advised not to appear before the committee, because the matter was described as sub judice. 

However, Buthelezi told the committee he could not provide finer details about the investigation because the SIU is still finalising its report and he, too, is implicated.

“The matter is now with law enforcement agencies. I am also somehow implicated in the case that was opened [by the DA],” Buthelezi told parliament. “I can confirm that, however, the forensic teams that we employed as the department have come up with evidence that is now sitting with the SIU. They are the only ones who can act on that evidence.”

It is not yet confirmed when Buthelezi’s disciplinary hearing will take place. In the meantime, Dr Nicholas Crisp will continue in his role as acting director general in the health department. 

Minister of Health Joe Phaahla appointed Crisp when Buthelezi initially took leave in early September. 

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Eunice Stoltz
Eunice Stoltz is a general news reporter at the Mail & Guardian.

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