Health minister Zweli Mkhize says he has suggested to President Cyril Ramaphosa that he go on special leave pending the outcome of an investigation into his alleged role in the awarding of an R150m communications contract to a company headed by two of his aides.

“We have not discussed the issue of resignation. We have discussed the issue of special leave pending the report of the SIU (Special Investigating Unit). I raised it with the president,” he said on Tuesday during a visit to the Northern Cape where he is assessing the province’s management of its vaccine rollout amid a third wave of coronavirus infections.

Mkhize initially sought to distance himself from the growing scandal around the contract awarded to Digital Vibes, a company headed by his former personal assistant, Tahera Mather, and former secretary, Naadhira Mitha. But he has come under increasing political pressure to step down.

He told reporters that he had written to the ANC integrity commission, indicating his willingness to appear before it, but a date has yet to be set for him to do so. “I have written to them to say there is information we need to collect. We have not got a date set, but that is going to be done,” he said.

The health department awarded a contract to Digital Vibes in 2019 for work on National Health Insurance (NHI) and then extended it to include work on the coronavirus pandemic in 2020. Concern about the contract was first flagged by the auditor-general in December, prompting the health department to commission an investigation by tax, assurance and advisory firm Ngubane, which found the contract had been irregularly awarded, in contravention of the Public finance Management Act. The contract is currently being investigated by the SIU, which is expected to finalise its report by the end of June.

Daily Maverick, which first broke news of the questionable contract in February, subsequently reported that Digital Vibes paid for a car registered in Mkhize’s son’s name and paid maintenance bills at a house owned by his family trust. Sunday Times reported on May 30 that Mkhize had personally signed off on the contract, an allegation he denied on Tuesday.

“I never signed the contract,” he said. “No minister signs a contract, anywhere. The report about signing the contract is either [because they] misunderstood or they were mischievous,” he said.

Mkhize declined to appear before parliament last week to answer questions about the matter, on the grounds that his legal advisers had told him not to do so because it was still under investigation by the SIU.


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