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

Opposition parties want communications minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams to face criminal charges after she violated the national lockdown, which was put in place to curb the spread of Covid-19.

This after president Cyril Ramaphosa on Wednesday placed Ndabeni-Abrahams on leave for two months, one of which would be unpaid, and forced her to make a public apology, which she has done.

The presidency said with regards to allegations that the minister violated the regulations “the law should take its course”.

Ndabeni-Abrahams was censured by Ramaphosa after a photo of her sitting down for lunch during a visit to the home of disgraced former deputy minister Mduduzi Manana was circulated.

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 South Africans have been arrested for not adhering to the rules, with police and soldiers being accused of brutality in some cases.

The EFF’s spokesperson, Vuyani Pambo, laid a criminal complaint against Ndabeni-Abrahams on Wednesday, while the DA called on Ramaphosa, police minister Bheki Cele and the national police commissioner to assure citizens that the SA Police Service (SAPS) would take action against her.

DA MP and communications spokesperson Phumzile van Damme said Ramaphosa's decision to censure Ndabeni-Abrahams was “better than nothing” but that “we cannot praise a fish for attempting to move a fin in order to swim”.

She said Ndabeni-Abraham's apology was a little too late.

Should President Ramaphosa not lay the criminal complaint, he should at the very least address the nation together with the minister of police and the national police commissioner to assure the nation that SAPS will indeed act against Ndabeni-Abrahams,” Van Damme said.

Ramaphosa met Ndabeni-Abrahams on Tuesday regarding the photo, which has since been removed from Manana's social media account.

Presidency spokesperson Khusela Diko said Ramaphosa expressed his disapproval of the minister’s actions, which undermined the requirement that all citizens stay at home and save SA from the spread of the coronavirus.

“The president accepted the minister’s apology for the violation but was unmoved by mitigating factors she tendered,” Diko said.

On Tuesday, Manana released a statement in which he tried to defend 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. He and his family were about to sit down to a meal and invited her to join them.

Ramaphosa said the nationwide lockdown called for absolute compliance on the part of all South Africans and members of the executive carried a special responsibility in setting an example.

“None of us — not least a member of the national executive — should undermine our national effort to save lives in this very serious situation,” the president said. “I am satisfied that minister Ndabeni-Abrahams appreciates the seriousness of what she has done and that no-one is above the law.”

In a video on Wednesday, a visibly upset-looking Ndabeni-Abrahams apologised to Ramaphosa, the national command council and the country.

“I regret the incident and I am deeply sorry for my actions,” she said.

“I hope the president and you South Africans will find it in your hearts to forgive me.”

Ndabeni-Abrahams acknowledged that Ramaphosa had placed her on special leave and undertook to abide to the conditions of the leave.

Minister in the presidency Jackson Mthembu will act in Ndabeni-Abrahams’s position.

Meanwhile, the ANC said it supported Ramaphosa's decision against Ndabeni-Abrahams.

“The ANC calls on all its deployees and the rest of society to respect and abide by the letter and spirit of all lockdown regulations in order to effectively disrupt the chain of transmission occasioned by the Covid-19 pandemic,” spokesperson Pule Mabe said.

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