South Africa’s health minister has taken special leave over transplant allegations

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa put his Health Minister Zweli Mkhize on special leave Tuesday after allegations that his department irregularly awarded contracts related to COVID-19 to a communications company controlled by its former employees.

Ahead of Ramaphosa’s statement, the minister apologized for public anger over the allegations, the latest in a series of coronavirus-related tenders that have angered the public about a pandemic-caused economic hardship. Mkhize has denied any personal misconduct.

Ramaphosa, who has promised that transplants will be harshly treated during the COVID-19 pandemic, said the special leave would allow Mkhize to answer an investigation into contracts between his department and service provider Digital Vibes.

Mkhize said, “I fully acknowledge the public outrage caused by this Digital Vibes contract and take personal responsibility for it.”

“The negative discourse has … tarnished our government’s teamwork led by the President in our ongoing efforts to combat COVID-19. … I apologize without reservation for all of this, ”he added.

South African Health Minister Zweli Mkhize will receive the Johnson and Johnson Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) vaccination on February 17, 2021 at Khayelitsha Hospital near Cape Town, South Africa. Gianluigi Guercia / REUTERS

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Tourism Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane will serve as acting health minister until further notice, the Ramaphosa office said.

The special investigation unit has said that an investigation it is conducting is nearing completion. The report will be given to Ramaphosa to decide how to proceed.

In May, Mkhize said a forensic investigation revealed that the process of appointing Digital Vibes under the direction of its former personal assistant and secretary was erratic, as was more than 150 million rand ($ 11 million) given to the company were paid.

Daily Maverick, which first announced the contract in February, said the company was appointed in late 2019 to provide communications services for the government’s state health insurance launch.

The scope of work was expanded to include COVID-19-related communication in March 2020.

($ 1 = 13.5644 rand)

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