Durban – Dedani Mabhunu Mkhize, the son of the embattled health minister accused of illegally benefiting from an allegedly corrupt tender, runs a flourishing farm in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands.
Off the beaten N3 Pietermaritzburg freeway, heading towards Table Mountain Road, a turn left onto the gravel path marked D408 leads to rolling hills where Tusokuhle, the farm owned by Mkhize junior, is located.
Father and son are at the centre of an investigation into a R150 million communications contract awarded to Digital Vibes, a company claimed to have profited because of its association with the Mkhizes.
An investigation by an online news platform found that Dedani was given a 2003 Toyota Land Cruiser and R300 000 had been deposited into the account of one of his companies. It was reported that the vehicle was used at Tusokuhle.
But when we visited the farm this week, the vehicle was not there. Instead, a worker, who cannot be named for fear of losing their job, said Andile Ncgobo, the farm manager who drives the bakkie would come around 3 or 4pm to collect workers and drop them off at the nearby informal settlement.
The 1 300 hectare plot largely farms sugar cane, with some open spaces for seasonal fresh produce.
Tusokuhle employs about 29 men and women, according to the worker.
“I have been working here for five years now, the farm is very productive. In summer we plant spinach and cabbage in the fields reserved for fresh produce,” said the worker.
Depending on the season, the farm produces a variety of vegetables including spinach, cabbage, spinach, butternut, broccoli, cauliflower and corn.
Crates for packaging could be spotted in an open storage area where workers were packing the freshly picked sugar beans for cleaning.
It is understood that most of the produce is supplied to Durban and Pietermaritzburg municipal fresh produce markets, while some is sold to established retail outlets.
The workers, mostly women clad in their blue overalls, were in the midst of harvesting sugar beans when Dedani arrived at the farm.
Attempts to contact him before our visit were unsuccessful but someone had alerted him and he was there within an hour of our arrival.
Driving a Toyota RAV4, Dedani dressed in jeans and a black jacket with Tusokuhle Farming embroidered on it, was nonchalant.
He was followed by an Audi Q3, driven by a man who looked liked his younger brother. The young man stood alongside Dedani.
A few seconds later after we had just exchanged greetings, Dedani’s two armed security officers arrived in a marked bakkie and asked him if everything was in order.
Calmly, he told the guards that we were co-operating, and that they could just relax.
Dedani refused to be interviewed, saying he was no longer responding to the media.
He said he understood the context of our visit (referring to the Digital Vibe saga).
“We are not doing interviews, rather send me questions. Maybe I may decide to respond depending on what you are asking. I have been running the farm for a while now, you can check for yourself.
“My phone was damaged by water, but you can send me a WhatsApp message with all your questions, once I get a new phone probably tomorrow (last Thursday) I will respond to it,” he said briefly before asking us to leave.
Although questions were sent via WhatsApp to Dedani, he did not respond.
His father apparently asked to go on special leave, which was granted by President Cyril Ramaphosa on Tuesday, following pressure for him to take action against Mkhize while the Special Investigating Unit looked into the apparent dodgy dealings with Digital Vibes.
Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane was appointed acting minister of health while the probe was under way.
Dr Sibongiseni Dhlomo, the chairperson of the portfolio committee on health, said he was of the view that the Covid-19 vaccination roll-out programme would not be affected in any way.
“The committee saw the results of the roll-out of the vaccination programme in the provinces. I can say the performance of the team on the roll-out is encouraging.”
Dhlomo said he welcomed the move by Mkhize to voluntarily ask the president for special leave.
“Dr Mkhize had assured the committee when the matter of the tender was the subject of discussion, that he will not, in any way, be an obstacle in the way of the investigations of any issues related to the tender even if the investigations affect his name.
“He is now allowing the whole process of the investigations to go on freely without him in the way and while this is going on we welcome the move as a committee.”