South Africa’s Health Minister Zweli Mkhize has been put on special leave, after allegations that his department irregularly awarded COVID-19-related contracts to a communications company controlled by his former associates.

President Cyril Ramaphosa’s office said that this period of special leave will enable the Minister to respond to allegations and investigations concerning contracts between the Department of Health and a service provider, Digital Vibes.

Earlier on, Mkhize told the press that he had approached the president about taking a special leave pending an investigation into the contracts awarded to communications firm Digital Vibes. He has previously denied any wrongdoing.

South Africa’s Special Investigating Unit (SIU) revealed that these allegations of mishandling of coronavirus funds surfaced last year and have since led investigators to believe that billions of rands have fallen into the hands of politically connected companies. SIU said that 63 government officials had so far been handed over for prosecution, while 87 companies will be blacklisted. The Unit is probing the case, one of over 4,000 coronavirus-linked contracts suspiciously awarded since the start of the pandemic, and has vowed to make public its findings.

Mkhize wrote to the ruling African National Congress party to request for a meeting with the integrity committee to state his case.

Mkhize has been health minister since 2018 and led South Africa’s campaign against COVID-19. He gained popularity through his handling of the pandemic and has been touted as one of the potential successors to Ramaphosa. But links to the coronavirus corruption scandals could tarnish his reputation.

This was the latest in a series of corruption allegations linked to coronavirus-related tenders that have caused public outrage. In response, Ramaphosa promised that corruption during the COVID-19 pandemic will be dealt with harshly.

Ramaphosa’s war on corruption has been witnessed massively since he came into power. However, the question remains whether it will be enough to purge government institutions of corruption and restore waning public confidence.

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