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Ndabeni-Abrahams placed on special leave, ordered to deliver public apology

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Communications and digital technologies minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams.
Communications and digital technologies minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams.

President Cyril Ramaphosa has placed communications and digital technologies minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams on special leave for two months, one month of which will be unpaid.

This after a furore erupted on social media yesterday, when a picture showing Ndabeni-Abrahams in violation of the government-imposed lockdown rules surfaced.

The photograph in question shows the minister having lunch at former higher education deputy minister Mduduzi Manana’s home, contrary to what the lockdown regulations stipulate.

South Africa is currently on day 13 of the national 21-day lockdown aimed at curbing the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19). In terms of the lockdown regulations, people are only allowed to go to stores to get essential items, or if they are rendering essential services.

The Presidency issued a statement this morning, saying that due to allegations the minister violated the lockdown regulations, the law should take its course.

After Ramaphosa summoned Ndabeni-Abrahams yesterday, he expressed his disapproval of her actions, according to the statement.

The Presidency statement notes the minister’s actions undermine the requirement that all citizens stay at home and save SA from the spread of the coronavirus.

Furthermore, Ramaphosa accepted the minister’s apology for the violation but was unmoved by mitigating factors she tendered. “President Ramaphosa has placed the minister on special leave for two months, during which minister in the Presidency Jackson Mthembu will act in minister Ndabeni-Abrahams’s position. The president has reprimanded the minister and directed her to deliver a public apology to the nation,” it reads.

Ramaphosa states: “The nation-wide lockdown calls for absolute compliance on the part of all South Africans. Members of the National Executive carry a special responsibility in setting an example to South Africans, who are having to make great sacrifices.

“None of us – not least a member of the National Executive – should undermine our national effort to save lives in this very serious situation. I am satisfied that minister Ndabeni-Abrahams appreciates the seriousness of what she has done and that no-one is above the law.”

Stella must go

Ahead of the decision to place Ndabeni-Abrahams on “special leave”, the Democratic Alliance (DA) had written to Ramaphosa, asking him to lay a criminal complaint and fire the minister.

Phumzile Van Damme, DA MP and shadow minister of communications and digital technologies, said the president’s statement that he summoned Ndabeni-Abrahams was simply not “good enough”.

In the letter to Ramaphosa, Van Damme asked him to set an example as the president of SA that lawlessness, while the country deals with a global pandemic, will not be tolerated, regardless of from whom it comes.

“He therefore ought to lay a criminal complaint against Ndabeni-Abrahams, a person who he appointed as a minister and member of his Cabinet.

“And he must go a further step by removing her from his Cabinet.”

Van Damme emphasised that president Ramaphosa addressed the nation twice asking South Africans to obey the law while containment strategies for COVID-19 were being implemented.

“The majority of the people of our country have done so with diligence. Many have lost jobs and incomes while staying at home as he requested. Some have been brutalised by security forces for not obeying the law.

“He cannot expect that in these circumstances a mere slap on the wrist will suffice. Ndabeni-Abrahams must go!”

Minister apologises

Meanwhile, Ndabeni-Abrahams has issued a statement apologising for her actions. She has also taken to Facebook to convey her “deepest regret”. 

In a statement issued through her spokesperson, the minister apologises to the president, the National Command Centre and South African society at large for breaching lockdown rules aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19.

“I regret the incident and I am deeply sorry for my actions. I hope the president and South Africans will find it in their hearts to forgive me.”

Ndabeni-Abrahams adds: “The president has put me on special leave with immediate effect. I undertake to abide by the conditions of the special leave.

“I wish to use this opportunity to reiterate the president’s call for all of us to observe the lockdown rules. They are a necessary intervention to curb the spread of a virus that has devastated many nations.”

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