MAHLATSE MAHLASE: Ramaphosa has enough to act on with Mkhize. So why won't he?
As expected, President Cyril Ramaphosa faced a barrage of questions from journalists on why his Health Minister, Zweli Mkhize, has remained in office despite the deepening scandal around him.
Ramaphosa used his usual flowery language to aptly describe the Digital Vibes saga as “disturbing and concerning” (thankfully, he didn’t use "shocked" this time around).
He told us the matter was on his desk, but as usual, gave no timeframes for when there would be finality.
Despite the pressure, the president will wait for the Special Investigations Unit to conclude its investigations before he acts.
Presumably the SIU will give him the ammunition he needs to fire a minister serving in his executive at his pleasure, or help him avoid a political quagmire of firing a political heavyweight in the ANC ahead of local government elections and an ANC elective conference in 2022.
So, essentially, Ramaphosa has outsourced the strongest tenet of leadership - which is taking a difficult decision in the interest of South Africa. His oath of office says that he will always promote all that will advance the Republic and oppose all that may harm it.
Perceived or real, corruption harms this country. It widens the trust deficit between the public and the executive, eats at our moral fibre and denies poor people quality service from their government.
At a time when the pandemic is wiping away livelihoods, we need decisive leadership.
The SIU says it will only conclude its investigation into Digital Vibes and Mkhize’s role at the end of June, so in the meantime, the man entrusted with protecting us from COVID-19 has zero credibility.
In reality, every time a journalist puts a mic in front of Mkhize they will want the embattled minister to answer to the R150 million Digital Vibes saga instead of the department’s response to the third wave of the pandemic or the slow roll out of vaccines.
In a time of crisis and uncertainty, people look to leaders for guidance and more than ever, they need to trust those entrusted with saving their lives.
The vaccination roll-out programme has failed to meet all set deadlines and we are a long way from herd immunity.
Apart from the slow delivery of the vaccines, we still have large sections of our populations doubting that vaccines are necessary and that they are safe. We need a strong, steady and untainted hand to lead us in these difficult times, we cannot afford distraction.
This R150 million Digital Vibes thievery claim is no minor distraction – the allegation is that close associates of the minister stole money meant to save lives with a contract from his department.
Mkhize has tried to downplay his relationship with Tahera Mather who is employed by Digital Vibes, calling her a comrade who volunteered her services during his 2017 failed presidential bid.
But political journalists all knew Mather as no ordinary comrade to Mkhize. We were never clear about her exact title, but we all knew Mather was the person to contact to secure an interview.
Many journalists assumed that Mkhize rewarded her with a position in his political office when she continued in health communications.
We didn’t know until the Daily Maverick expose that she was collecting millions of rands for work that could be done by a government official.
Given the close proximity, at the very least Mkhize should have asked if all was above board when he saw Mather around him. Now, Mkhize still has to answer to why his children also benefited from the proceeds of crime from a mere comrade that his son calls Aunt T.
Ramaphosa has enough to act. After all, ministers serve at his prerogative; their employment is not governed by any labour laws.
He could even take the soft option of asking Mkhize to step aside while the SIU finalises its investigation and hand over the lead role on vaccines to Deputy Health Minister Joe Phaahla or to Deputy President David Mabuza who leads the inter ministerial committee on vaccine roll out.
Doing nothing, again, shows just how his promise to act tough on corruption was an empty shell.
While his long-game tactic has worked in the ANC, saving lives at this time needs a firm, steady hand as time is not on our side.
Mahlatse Mahlase is group editor-in-chief at Eyewitness News. Follow her on Twitter: @hlatseentle