Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams. Picture: GCIS
Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams. Picture: GCIS

While most South Africans cannot go to work, open their businesses or walk their dogs, communications minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams has came under fire over a photo of her sitting down for lunch during a visit to the home of disgraced former deputy minister Mduduzi Manana.

Manana, who in 2018 was convicted of assaulting a woman at a nightclub, posted a photo of a group of people, including Ndabeni-Abrahams, having a meal during SA’s 21-day national lockdown. Manana is still a member of the ANC's national executive committee.

There has been a public outcry over Ndabeni-Abrahams’s conduct, at a time when some ordinary South Africans have been arrested for not adhering to the rules, with police and soldiers being accused of brutality in some cases.

The photo prompted President Cyril Ramaphosa to summon Ndabeni-Abrahams to a meeting.

Manana has, however, come out in defence of Ndabeni-Abrahams, saying that the minister arrived at his house to pick up personal protective equipment (PPE) for students who were working on Covid-19 digital services.

The three-week lockdown is intended to curb local transmission of the coronavirus, which has spread to all nine provinces. As of Tuesday afternoon, the total number of reported Covid-19 cases stood at 1,749, with 13 reported deaths.

The lockdown imposes tight restrictions on the movement of people who are expected to stay at home except for shopping for essentials, such as food and medicines, seeking health care or collecting social grants, and expected to keep a social distance of at least  one metre.

Ramaphosa said on Tuesday that he had seen the photo.

“I have asked her to come and see me and she is coming, and I am going to have a discussion with her about the impact of visuals like these,” he said after visiting the water and sanitation Covid-19 command centre at Rand Water in Johannesburg.

“We are trying to instil a clear message to all people that social distancing is important; let us stay at home ... and if you have to [go out] it must be work related. This is what the lockdown is about.” 

Ramaphosa made a point of saying that he would return home immediately after his visit to Rand Water.

Manana said in a statement that Ndabeni-Abrahams called him on Sunday and told him she was visiting a site in Fourways where the students were working, and that they needed masks, gloves and hand sanitisers which his foundation had been handing over to marginalised communities.

He said he asked the minister to pass by his home and collect the PPEs. On her arrival Manana said he and his family were having lunch and “courteously invited” her to join them.

After lunch, Ndabeni-Abrahams collected the PPEs, organised for some to be delivered to another location the following day and left, Manana said.

“On hindsight, it was irresponsible to post a picture without giving a clear context and thereby creating the impression that it was a social lunch,” Manana said, adding an apology.

He said he and his family were homebound and adhering to the lockdown regulations.

quintalg@businesslive.co.za