Ndabeni-Abrahams may be controversial – But she is not the first

Current communications minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams has attracted controversy throughout her stint in the position.

In September, allegations came to light that her husband is implicated in theft at USAASA.

A forensic audit report found that irregular expenditure had taken place at USAASA which totalled in excess of R80 million.

Included in those implicated was her husband, Thato Abrahams, who was not married to Ndabeni-Abrahams at the time.

An anonymous source told The Star that Abrahams was implicated in the theft of “about 20 iPads and other electronic gadgets”.

A whistleblower alleges that the report was removed from the public record.

“The forensic report was given to the then deputy minister (Ndabeni-Abrahams) and was concealed from public record while Thato was an employee at USAASA’s marketing and communications department,” claimed the source.

Abrahams denied having any knowledge of either the investigation or the report.

“I joined USAASA in 2010 before I met my wife. To avoid any perceived issues of conflict of interest, when my wife was appointed minister, I resigned,” said Abrahams.

Breaking curfew

In April 2020 President Cyril Ramaphosa placed Ndabeni-Abrahams on special leave for two months, one of which was unpaid.

This was because of a picture which surfaced on Instagram of Ndabeni-Abrahams having a meal at former Deputy Minister of Higher Education and Training Mduduzi Manana’s house.

“The President summoned the minister yesterday, 7 April 2020. The President expressed his disapproval of the minister’s actions, which undermine the requirement that all citizens stay at home and save South Africa from the spread of the coronavirus,” said the presidency.

“The President accepted the minister’s apology for the violation, but was unmoved by mitigating factors she tendered.”

Ndabeni-Abrahams was also previously accused of taking her husband with her to Switzerland to celebrate their wedding anniversary using taxpayer money – a claim which she has denied.

Spectrum auction

For all the criticism of Ndabeni-Abrahams, however, there is something to be said for the fact that the high-demand spectrum auction finally has a date under her leadership.

High-demand spectrum allocation has been delayed since as far back as 2006 – when it published notice to get comment on awarding radio frequency spectrum – and is the tenth communications minister to take office since the allocation of spectrum was first announced.

In September 2020, ICASA chairperson Dr Keabetswe Modimoeng finally provided details about the spectrum that it will auction to mobile networks and the WOAN.

“We have all been waiting for this day and through consultation with all relevant stakeholders, guided by the empowering legislation including the law of administrative justice and procedural fairness, the ICASA Council has taken a decision and approved that the licensing process for spectrum can now go-ahead,” said Modimoeng.

“We would like to thank all stakeholders who made submissions to ICASA on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the markets and related issues.”

The spectrum auction is set to take place in 2021.

The communications minister hotseat

Therefore, while Ndabeni-Abrahams has had a controversial tenure, significant progress is at least being made under her leadership.

The role has been held by 11 different people since the turn of the century – many of whom had similarly controversial tenures without making as much progress.

A brief history of South Africa’s communications minister hotseat is detailed below.

Ivy Matsepe-Casaburri: June 1999 – April 2009

Ivy Matsepe-Casaburri

Ivy Matsepe-Casaburri served as communications minister for nearly 10 years before passing away in April 2009.

However, her tenure was littered with criticism regarding the delays to developments in the telecommunications industry, and she is often blamed for Telkom’s controversial monopoly in the industry.

Manto Tshabalala-Msimang: April 2009 – May 2009

Manto Tshabalala-Msimang

Tshabalala-Msimang only served as the acting communications minister for a short period following the passing of Matsepe-Casaburri.

Siphiwe Nyanda: May 2009 – October 2010

Siphiwe Nyanda

Nyanda was linked to tender irregularities and allegedly spent hundreds of thousands of rands to live in a luxurious Cape Town hotel because he deemed his ministerial house to be insufficient.

A company in which the minister had a 45% stake was also accused of impropriety in a tender process in March 2010.

Roy Padayachie: November 2010 – October 2011

Roy Padayachie

Padayachie was one of the few communications ministers not to face major controversy during his tenure.

Dina Pule: October 2011 – July 2013

Dina Pule

Pule’s tenure included numerous scandals, including one where she outright denied that Phosane Mngqibisa was her boyfriend despite evidence to the contrary.

Conference organisers for the 2012 ICT Indaba were reportedly forced by the Department of Communications to hire Mngqibisa where he was paid R6 million despite him not actually being involved in the organisation of the event.

Yunus Carrim: July 2013 – May 2014

Yunus Carrim

Carrim was another of the few who didn’t suffer any major controversies.

Faith Muthambi: May 2014 – March 2017

Faith Muthambi

Faith Muthambi was implicated in the Guptas’ state capture campaign, including sharing three confidential cabinet memoranda with the family.

She was also accused of protecting highly controversial former SABC COO Hlaudi Motsoeneng by removing the national broadcaster’s board’s ability to appoint its own chief executives.

Ayanda Dlodlo: March 2017 – October 2017

Ayanda Dlodlo

Dlodlo was also implicated in Gupta-related controversies, including being given accommodation in Dubai by the family.

She also admitted to have earned R3 million from a failed Johannesburg broadband project.

Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane: October 2017 – February 2018

Mmamoloko Kubayi

In her short time in office, Kubayi-Ngubane did not encounter any significant controversies.

Nomvula Mokonyane: February 2018 – 22 November 2018

Nomvula Mokonyane

While Mokonyane avoided major controversy in her limited time as communications minister, she has been implicated in serious irregularities involving Bosasa when she was Minister of Water and Sanitation.

Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams: 22 November 2018 – Current

Now read: Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams gives update on digital migration

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Ndabeni-Abrahams may be controversial – But she is not the first