Communications and Digital Technologies Minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams returned to work last week after a two-month suspension and is already making headlines again.
In April President, Cyril Ramaphosa placed Ndabeni-Abrahams on special leave after she breached lockdown regulations by visiting a friend for lunch.
Ndabeni-Abrahams pleaded guilty to contravening the COVID-19 lockdown regulations and paid a R1,000 admission of guilt fine, which means she now has a criminal record.
She has also apologised for her actions, saying she hopes “the President and South Africans will find it in their hearts to forgive me”.
She returned to work on Tuesday 9 June and penned a letter to staff saying the suspension has given her time to reflect on her personal journey and the “exciting work that still lies ahead of us”.
“We have a special responsibility as a department, given the rapid adoption of ICT and other digital technologies as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak,” she said.
She added that she was delighted to be back at work and was looking forward to driving the mandate of the department.
Ndabeni-Abrahams making headlines
It did not take long for Ndabeni-Abrahams to make headlines again, with two newspapers running stories involving the minister.
The City Press’s front-page story, titled “Stella walks into new storm”, said the minister is facing an unprecedented stand-off with Parliament over the appointment of new ICASA councillors.
According to the report, Parliament’s portfolio committee on communications had provided a ranked list of candidates for the positions.
The National Assembly has subsequently approved 10 names from this list on the day Ndabeni-Abrahams returned to work.
What is unusual is that the list, from which Ndabeni-Abrahams must now select six names, is ranked according to preference.
The ranking of this list is seen by Ndabeni-Abrahams’ associates as an attempt to force her to align her choice with the views of the parliamentary committee.
The minister said she has full confidence in the rankings given by the committee and will appoint the best candidates for maintaining a successful regulator.
The same report states Ndabeni-Abrahams “was hot under the collar as she was also dealing with the suspicions that the ANC’s communications subcommittee and the party’s communications study group in Parliament appeared to have a different policy view from her on the roll-out of spectrum, which was handled by ICASA”.
In another front-page story on Sunday – this time from the Sunday World – Ndabeni-Abrahams once again made an appearance.
The article, titled “SABC plots jobs bloodbath”, said the state broadcaster plans to retrench hundreds of employees to cut costs.
It added that Ndabeni-Abrahams had previously been at odds with the SABC board over its plans to cut staff.
SABC management is now seeking a mandate from the board to engage with unions to cut staff, which may involve the communications minister again.
No stranger to controversy
Ndabeni-Abrahams is no stranger to controversies and has been making headlines for years.
In January, the Sunday Independent reported the minister and her husband enjoyed a wedding anniversary in the US and Switzerland on taxpayers’ money.
Ndabeni-Abrahams has also been accused of outsourcing departmental functions to her husband by allowing him to interview candidates for positions.
She refuted the “unfounded allegations made against her and her husband”, calling it a smear campaign.
In February 2019, the South African National Editors Forum (SANEF) also condemned Ndabeni-Abrahams’ decision to block an SABC journalist from covering a protest at an ANC manifesto launch.
The minister met with SANEF and took full responsibility for her actions, which undermined media freedom. She apologised unreservedly.