President Cyril Ramaphosa recently placed Communications Minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams on special leave for two months for not adhering to lockdown regulations.
The suspension followed public criticism after she had lunch with the family of former deputy minister of higher education and training Mduduzi Manana.
Manana tried to protect Ndabeni-Abrahams, saying she visited him to pick up personal protective equipment – such as masks, gloves, and hand sanitisers.
“On her arrival, my family was having lunch and I courteously invited her to join us. She then collected the material and headed to her next assignment,” he said.
The President was not convinced, however, and expressed his disapproval of the minister’s actions.
She was placed on two months of special leave and Ramaphosa directed Ndabeni-Abrahams to deliver a public apology.
On 8 April, the minister published an apology for breaching lockdown.
Ndabeni-Abrahams is no stranger to controversies and has been making headlines for the wrong reasons for a while.
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 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.
New acting communications minister
After Ndabeni-Abrahams was placed on special leave, Ramaphosa appointed Jackson Mthembu as acting communications minister.
He is the 12th minister in 12 years in a department which has been dogged by corruption, scandals, and mismanagement.
Former ministers and acting communications ministers include Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, Dina Pule, Faith Muthambi, and Nomvula Mokonyane.
Here is a look at the communications ministers since 2008 and what they became known for.
Ivy Matsepe-Casaburri: June 1999 – April 2009
Ivy Matsepe-Casaburri fought tooth and nail to stop the licensing of additional infrastructure players in South Africa, protecting Telkom’s monopoly for many years.
Manto Tshabalala-Msimang: April 2009 – May 2009
Manto Tshabalala-Msimang was best known for her view that AIDS could be treated using accessible vegetables such as the African potato, garlic, and beetroot.
Siphiwe Nyanda: May 2009 – October 2010
Nyanda allegedly spent hundreds of thousands living in a luxurious Cape Town hotel throughout his tenure as communications minister, because he was unhappy with his ministerial house.
A company in which the minister had a 45% stake was also accused of impropriety in a tender process in March 2010.
Nyanda’s public spat with communications director-general Mamodupi Mohlala also made headlines.
Roy Padayachie: November 2010 – October 2011
Roy Padayachie’s short tenure as communications minister did not give him much time to make a meaningful impact. There were also no major scandals during this tenure.
Dina Pule: October 2011 – July 2013
Dina Pule’s reign as communications minister was littered with scandals. This includes influencing a senior Usaasa appointment, persistently lying, and unethical conduct.
A Public Protector investigation into allegations of corruption and a potential conflict of interest against Pule found her conduct was unlawful.
She was ultimately reprimanded and suspended by Parliament for a scandal that saw her boyfriend benefit from state funding.
Yunus Carrim: July 2013 – May 2014
Yunus Carrim was the best communications minister South Africa has ever had. Although he served as minister for less than a year, the wheels started to turn under his leadership.
Carrim became known for his honest and ethical leadership, and his departure was a blow to the industry.
Faith Muthambi: May 2014 – March 2017
There were many scandals during Faith Muthambi’s time as communications minister, which include sharing three confidential cabinet memoranda with the Gupta family and their associates.
She was also accused of stripping the SABC board of its power to appoint chief executives and protecting former COO Hlaudi Motsoeneng.
OUTA laid charges of treason and corruption against Muthambi over these claims, and the DA opened a criminal case against Muthambi for lying to Parliament during her time as Communications Minister.
Ayanda Dlodlo: March 2017 – October 2017
Like her predecessor, Ayanda Dlodlo faced scrutiny for her name being mentioned in the Gupta email leaks.
Dlodo was reported to have been provided accommodation in Dubai by the Gupta’s Sahara Computers.
She was also mentioned as one of the top ANC officials who scored millions of rand from a failed broadband project for the Johannesburg metro.
Dlodlo admitted to her role in the project, and said she had been led to believe “it would benefit Umkhonto we Sizwe veterans”.
Dlodlo also admitted that she made R3 million from selling shares in the company, but resigned from it when she joined parliament.
Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane: October 2017 – February 2018
Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane was in the role of communications minister for such a short time that she could not make a meaningful impact.
Nomvula Mokonyane: February 2018 – November 2018
Nomvula Mokonyane was previously implicated in serious irregularities by Treasury officials and Auditor-General Kimi Makwetu while she was Minister of Water and Sanitation.
Bosasa COO Angelo Agrizzi told the Zondo Commission of Inquiry into State Capture that Mokonyane was paid R50,000 a month to protect the company from law enforcement agencies.
Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams: November 2018 – Current
Ndabeni-Abrahams is currently known for not adhering to the lockdown regulations, and a report that she went to Switzerland with her husband to celebrate their wedding anniversary on taxpayers’ money.
She also made headlines for the quote: “I have never been to Switzerland. My husband has never been to Switzerland. We went to Geneva and New York.”
Jackson Mthembu: April 2020 to June 2020
This is an opinion piece.