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14 June 2021

Hospersa, a Union of more than 60 000 healthcare workers in the public and private health sector, has raised concerns about the current state of Department of Health embroiled in a corruption scandal, an acting Minister and the slow pace of the COVID-19 vaccination.  The Union has also questioned the appointment of Minister of Tourism in the position of acting Minister of Health citing that the position needs someone with a medical background especially as the country has entered a third wave.  Hospersa has called on the President to review the appointment of the Minister of Tourism and for the Special Investigative Unit (SIU) to conclude their investigations as speedily as possible for law enforcement agencies to bring all implicated individuals to book.

On 8 June 2021, the Health Minister, Dr Zweli Mkhize announced that he has been granted special leave following allegations levelled against him that his close associates benefited from a R150 million contract awarded by the Department of Health (DoH).  It is reported that the company, Digital Vibes, that was contracted to perform the DoH’s communication activities is run by the Minister’s former personal assistant and invoiced the DoH millions of Rands for tasks which should have been performed by the department’s employees.  Minister Mkhize has recently made the admission that the awarded contract is irregular but claims he has not personally benefitted.  Due to mounting pressure, Minister Mkhize has taken special leave and the Minister of Tourism has been appointed as the acting Minister of Health while the SIU conclude their report into the awarding of this communications contract.  Minister Mkhize leaves this void in the department while the country struggles to increase the pace of COVID-19 vaccinations and is in the middle of a third wave of the pandemic.  Hospersa has raised concerns over  these developments and worries that the current challenges may hamper the country’s fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Hospersa has noted the special leave granted to the Minister of Health,” said Hospersa General Secretary Noel Desfontaines.  “The Minister of Health has been under immense pressure lately following revelations of the Digital Vibes contract.  The special leave should have been taken earlier to ease uncertainties in the country’s continued fight against the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Desfontaines.

“We are also shocked by the appointment of the Minister of Tourism who has no medical background,” said Desfontaines.  “The country’s health care system is currently under a lot of pressure due to a slow vaccination process and the third wave.  Many provincial departments are battling to cope with the increasing numbers of COVID-19 cases with the Gauteng province having the added pressure caused by the temporary closure of Charlotte Maxeke Academic Hospital,” said Desfontaines.

“It is our view that the Department of Health needs a Minister with medical background now more than ever,” said Desfontaines.  “Aside for the COVID-19 pandemic, there is also ongoing work around the National Health Insurance which could be delayed even further due to this appointment,” added Desfontaines. 

“We also question the need for departments to have Deputy Ministers if they cannot take over the reins in the Minister’s absence,” said Desfontaines.  “Since the South African Constitution does not allow for Deputy Ministers to act in the position of Ministers, maybe the country should have an honest conversation around the need of having Deputy Ministers.  Our government pleads poverty and continues to announce a three year increase freeze for public servants, including health workers, yet wastes millions of Rands on salaries for Deputy Ministers who cannot step into Ministers’ shoes when needed the most,” argued Desfontaines.

“We call on the President to review the decision and appoint someone that has the relevant medical expertise to restore confidence in the department.  We also call on the SIU to conclude their investigations and for implicated individuals, high profile or not, to face the full might of the law,” concluded Desfontaines.





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