Former health minister Zweli Mkhize. File photo: WERNER HILLS
Former health minister Zweli Mkhize. File photo: WERNER HILLS

Former health minister Zweli Mkhize says the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) ignored evidence from him and other witnesses relating to its Digital Vibes investigation in an effort to reach a conclusion that he conducted himself unlawfully. 

Mkhize makes these claims in an affidavit filed as part of a review application before the high court in Pretoria to have the adverse findings against him declared unlawful and unconstitutional. He also wants the unit’s report and referral letter to President Cyril Ramaphosa reviewed and set aside.

In his application, Mkhize said the unit’s conclusions were “tainted” and “predetermined”, and so damning they left him with no choice but to resign and Ramaphosa with no other option but to accept his resignation.

“There were also clear breaches of basic fairness. While, for instance, I provided the SIU with a bundle of documents plus [without being required to do so] a detailed witness statement in advance of my questioning, I was given no notice of even the gist of fundamental matters on which I was questioned.”

He said documents in the possession of the SIU were simply withheld so that he could be ambushed.

“Also by way of example, key findings eventually reached by the SIU in its referral to the president were markedly different from those that were put to me during its interrogation,” he said.

The SIU found Mkhize may have contravened the Public Finance Management Act and referred him and his son to the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) for possible prosecution. The findings, as well as a recommendation that the president take “executive action” against him, led Mkhize to resign on August 5.

SIU spokesperson Kaizer Kganyago confirmed on Tuesday that they were served with the papers this week and would oppose the application. The presidency, the second and only other respondent in the matter, said through spokesperson Tyrone Seale it “is aware of this matter but has not been served with papers”.

Mkhize distanced himself from his son, who the SIU found benefited to the tune of millions of rand, saying they were “estranged” and he first learnt about his “close” relationship with Digital Vibes director Tahera Mather through media reports.

“After these allegations were made in the media, I was shocked. I flew to Pietermaritzburg where my wife [Dr May Mkhize] and I confronted him on 30 May 2021. He admitted to having what we viewed as a close personal relationship with Ms Mather,” Mkhize said.

“I did not have and continue to have no insight into his personal affairs. Sadly, just like the public, I have had to learn about some of his financial benefits from Ms Mather through the media.”

Mkhize also disputed the SIU’s allegation that the appointment of Digital Vibes in November 2019 to lead communications on the National Health Insurance scheme contradicted a cabinet resolution that the government information system GCIS should do so on behalf of the government.

In his affidavit, Mkhize also noted that, though a large amount, there was nothing “alarming” or “untoward” about the R150m spent on a communications contract when it was compared with the health department’s R60bn budget.

Mkhize said the SIU did not investigate the matter with an open mind.

He cited the line and tone of questioning by the unit’s counsel who interviewed him, saying it was “purely prosecutorial”.

He accused the unit of failing to inform him ahead of the interview of critical information or evidence it had gathered, saying it seemed as if they wanted to blindside him.

This included evidence from former director-general Dr Precious Matsoso, whose evidence, including a WhatsApp message from Mkhize to her, was used by the SIU to show he was pressuring her to conclude Mather’s appointment.

“The SIU also failed to disclose allegations made against me by the former director-general of the health department, but relied heavily on those allegations in coming to adverse findings against me.

“The SIU gave me no opportunity to respond to those allegations which form the main plank of its findings against me. The allegations are indeed demonstrably false, as other evidence corroborates, and appear to have been driven by the previous difficult relationship between myself and the former DG,” he said.

Mkhize sought to discredit Matsoso, saying that before she had resigned from the department, she had been obstructive and was the person who initiated Mather’s relationship with the health department. He cited confirmatory affidavits from his former chief of staff, Ntombifuthi Ndlovu, head of communications Popo Maja and the department’s Dr Aquina Thulare for his claims regarding Matsoso.

Mkhize also accused the SIU of overlooking the fact that he acted immediately after the auditor-general flagged the Digital Vibes contract, instituted an independent forensic investigation and got a legal opinion, which were all shared with the SIU, saying these were not the actions of someone with something to hide

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