SIU Mkhize

Minister of Health, Dr Zweli Mkhize. (Photo by Gallo Images/Darren Stewart)

SA and UK, Mkhize and Johnson – a tale of two bungling democracies

South Africans will not have missed the irony of what plays out in the halls of power and the dark alleys of corruption, when a light is shone on their corrupt leaders at a time when we need them the most.

SIU Mkhize

Minister of Health, Dr Zweli Mkhize. (Photo by Gallo Images/Darren Stewart)

By any standard yesterday was an extraordinary day in British politics. It is enlightening to look at these events in parallel with what is happening in South Africa.

In a seven-hour hearing before MPs in Westminster, Boris Johnson’s former aide Dominic Cummings pulled no punches. He said that Johnson is unfit to be Prime Minister and his bungled handling of the pandemic crisis resulted in “thousands dying who never should have died”.


In using a number of cinematic references he likened the PM to “the mayor in Jaws who refused to close the beach even when people were dying”, and continued to portray Johnson as obsessed with the media and making constant U-turns “like a shopping trolley smashing from one side of the aisle to the other”.

Asked whether the PM was a fit and proper person to lead the country through the pandemic, Cummings replied simply: “No.”

It is too early to say what the effects of this will be. All British PMs are notoriously loathed to fall on their sword, even after something as damning as this. However, at least the public is hearing both sides of the story. Because that is a critical and essential part of democracy; it is the right of voters to know, to be told, and then to hold those in power to account.

In a live broadcast on YouTube, tens of millions were able to get a completely clear and unvarnished view of what had happened in the halls of power, to hear about those people that, quite literally, make decisions which result in thousands of people either living or dying.


Followers of South African politics will not have missed the irony that this expose should be happening at the very moment that the sheer extent of the opacity of our own handling of the pandemic and subsequent vaccine ‘rollout’ should become apparent.

As Peter Bruce writes in a scathing editorial in the Business Day this week, on almost every level the SA government’s handling of the pandemic has been a mess.

The first lockdown was too hard and too early, causing untold unnecessary damage to the economy.

The second lockdown was too soft and too late, resulting in tens of thousands of lives needlessly lost.

What is more, is that the government has consistently failed to come clean with the public about what is actually happening. In its latest report, published last week, the SA Medical Research Council said South Africa had measured 157 000 excess deaths in the past 12 months and estimated that 85% of them were caused by COVID-19, which means just over 133 000 people have died from the disease.


This is roughly three times the official death toll of 54 968. Mothers, fathers, grandparents, and children whose fate the government has refused to acknowledge.

The final irony is that thanks to the meticulous work of Daily Maverick reporter Pieter-Louis Myburgh, we heard this week that the very Minister of Health who was been in charge of this debacle, whose responsibility it was to handle the greatest health crisis that has beset this country for over a hundred years, is just another slippery and possibly fraudulent operator.

Myburgh writes that contracts worth over R150m were awarded from Zweli Mkhize’s very own Health Ministry budget to two people closely associated with him from a so-called PR company called Digital Vibes.

The recipients just happened to be Tahera Mather and Naadhira Mitha – two long-time associates and alleged friends of Mkhize.

Of course the reality is that unlike in some democracies where ineptitude and incompetence are made clear for the public to see and to judge, in South Africa we are overwhelmingly left none the wiser. Will South Africans ever have the chance to ask their politicians what happened and why mistakes were made?


Pandemics and lockdowns come and go. Some people live, and other people die. Politicians award kickbacks and spurious contracts to bogus companies and get away with it after yet another toothless “investigation”.

The question has to be, if these are the things we have managed to hear about through the work of investigative journalists and independent scientists, what other realities are South Africans completely unaware of? And furthermore, what are the long-term implications of this?

Perhaps for our sanity it is not worth asking these questions.