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Mkhize on the ropes for dodgy vibes as SIU zeroes in

President Cyril Ramaphosa was blindsided by Health Minister Zweli Mkhize’s announcement last week that he had requested special leave. 

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One party leader said Ramaphosa was shocked by Mkhize’s announcement to the media on Tuesday that he was waiting for a response from the president on his request to take special leave until the investigation into Digital Vibes, a company linked to his family, is concluded. 

This shock announcement — said a source close to the Special Investigative Unit’s probe into Mkhize and his associates Digital Vibes contracts — had Ramaphosa postpone his meeting with the head of the SIU, Andy Mothibi, to discuss the preliminary report on the probe. 

The investigation continues with new evidence and individuals that are being pursued, the source said.   

Sources close to the president said Mkhize’s abrupt leave request forced Ramaphosa’s hand. “The president had no choice. Zweli is making him look like he is reactive. He forced him into a corner. Comrade Zweli did not consult the president before making his announcement.” 

Be fired or be put on special leave

Several sources close to the matter say Ramaphosa has remained resolute that he will not fire Mkhize until the investigation has been completed. 

They said Ramaphosa is aware that in firing Mkhize, he would be placing a target on the backs of his most loyal allies, Deputy State Security Minister Zizi Kodwa and ANC chairperson and Mineral Resources Minister Gwede Mantashe. Both men are facing allegations of corruption, which have emerged at the Zondo commission into state capture. Mkhize is also one of the senior leaders in the ANC’s biggest province. 

Party insiders say that a decision was made during a meeting Mkhize held with regional leaders in KwaZulu-Natal on the weekend of 5 June that he would resign and work towards consolidating the province to support him in his move for deputy presidency in next year’s ANC elective congress. 

“It was the president who told Zweli to wait it out. It was [then] agreed in a meeting in KZN that he should resign and start working towards consolidating the province for next year,” said one party insider who sat in the talks. 

But this changed when Mkhize learnt the Ramaphosa faction would call for him to be removed from his position this past Monday. The insider added that Mkhize was caught off-guard by the call at the national working committee (NWC) that he be fired. It was then that Mkhize decided to ask for special leave. 

Friends or foes amid a scandal

The M&G previously reported that Ramaphosa’s allies — Justice Minister Ronald Lamola, Public Service and Administration Minister Senzo Mchunu and the president of the ANC Veterans’ League, Snuki Zikalala — called for Mkhize to take special leave while the matter was still under investigation. 

This was shot down by other NWC members, who argued that Mkhize was a senior leader in the ANC and the matter should be dealt with by the president and the top six.

The three insiders who spoke to the M&G say the call by the three ANC leaders was to gauge the mood of the party should Mkhize be removed. 

“He saw what was coming and that Ramaphosa was getting ready to place him on leave. It was after the NWC meeting that Mkhize realised he needed to stay ahead of this thing. That is why he announced that he had requested he be placed on special leave before the announcement by the president. By doing this, he at least shows that he is taking some accountability and Ramaphosa is reactive,” a party insider said.  

Two regional leaders in KwaZulu-Natal say Mkhize is now moving up his efforts towards his 2022 ambitions. They say they believe Mkhize is the most likely national figure to unite the party in KwaZulu-Natal. 

“Zweli has more clout than Bheki [Cele] and Senzo [Mchunu] in the province. We didn’t support him in 2017 [at the Nasrec elective conference] but he is the best possible candidate at this stage for us. If he can manage to bring the province together and our provincial conference is uncontested, then he can be our preferred candidate for next year at national level. This is part of the talks that are happening now,” the regional leader said. 

Who knows Digital Vibes 

Another Mkhize supporter said Mkhize’s camp would stick with the narrative that he knew nothing about Digital Vibes or the relationship between his son, Dedani, and his former spokesperson, Tahera Mather.

“Zweli didn’t expect the president to act so quickly. He was surprised,”’ the source said.

Mkhize’s fate now depends on the outcome of the SIU probe into the Digital Vibes contract, which is expected to be wrapped up in the coming weeks.

Sources close to the matter said this week that the SIU had issued subpoenas to the owners of 17 bank accounts through which the R150-million paid to Digital Vibes had flowed.

SIU spokesperson Kaizer Kganyago declined to comment on detailed questions about the investigation.

“The investigation is still on track to be completed at the end of June 2021 and the report will be given to the president soon thereafter,” he said. “We are unable to give further details on this matter as this will have an impact on the ongoing investigation. We unfortunately do not do a rolling commentary on any of our investigations.”The office of the president did not respond to questions sent by the M&G.

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Lizeka Tandwa
Lizeka Tandwa
Lizeka Tandwa is a political journalist with a keen interest in local government.
Paddy Harper
Paddy Harper
Storyteller.
Athandiwe Saba
Athandiwe Saba

Athandiwe Saba is a multi award-winning journalist who is passionate about data, human interest issues, governance and everything that isn’t on social media. She is an author, an avid reader and trying to find the answer to the perfect balance between investigative journalism, online audiences and the decline in newspaper sales. It’s a rough world and a rewarding profession.

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