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Stella is no stranger to controversy

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The 42-year-old Mthatha born Ndabeni-Abrahams has in recent years courted controversy that started in her days as a national executive member of the ANC youth league. Political reporter Sihle Mavuso revisits her checkered past.

Durban – Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams, the Minister of Communications and Digital Technologies, who was on Wednesday placed on two-month suspension by President Cyril Ramaphosa for violating the 21-day lockdown regulations is no stranger to controversy. 

The 42-year-old Mthatha born Ndabeni-Abrahams has in recent years courted controversy that started in her days as a national executive member of the ANC youth league, under the leadership of former leader, Julius Malema. 

In August 2012, Ndabeni-Abrahams took to Facebook to voice her support for former president Jacob Zuma when the late Winnie Madikizela-Mandela had bashed him for his life as a proud polygamist. 

Ndabeni-Abrahams wrote: “Life can be interesting. Dali Mpofu represented Julius Malema in the national disciplinary committee hearings. Mam’ Winnie has always seen a great leader like Madiba in Malema, and now the mother of our nation sees immorality in Zuma. Who is a saint between the two of them?”

Other than being an NEC member of the ANCYL, Zuma had in 2011 appointed her as the deputy minister in the then Department of Communications. 

It appears that made her one of Zuma’s cheerleaders until the internal ANC wrestling ahead of the Nasrec conference started. In the run-up to the 2017 conference, Ndabeni-Abrahams publicly backed Ramaphosa against Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, who was backed by a Zuma faction. 

Below are some of the scandals that have followed her.

The alleged state-funded honeymoon 

In January this year, the Sunday Independent reported that Ndabeni-Abrahams allegedly used thousands in taxpayers’ money to fund her wedding anniversary celebrations in the US and Switzerland by taking her husband, Thato Abrahams, along without permission from Ramaphosa. 

According to the newspaper, the pair took two international trips in September 2019, to New York and Switzerland. 

Ndabeni-Abrahams proceeded to Geneva, Switzerland, to take part in a congress. While in Switzerland, Thato allegedly took the chauffeur-driven Mercedes-Benz S600 that had been allocated to Ndabeni-Abrahams, from Geneva to Paris, in France, to go shopping. 

She denied the allegations.

Censoring SABC coverage of ANC members protesting in the Eastern Cape  

In February 2018, while serving as the country’s minister of communications, a position her critics claimed she got as a reward from Ramaphosa for backing him at Nasrec, Ndabeni-Abrahams abused her power when she blocked a videographer from the SABC from recording a protest in Mount Frere where the ANC was launching its election manifesto. 

The act was seen as a sign that some government ministers want to treat the SABC as a state broadcaster that should practise sunshine journalism instead of reporting without fear or favour when it comes to the ANC and government.

Ndabeni-Abrahams later apologised after she was criticised by the South African National Editors Forum (SANEF). 

Despite Media Monitoring Africa executive director, William Bird, saying Ramaphosa needed to take appropriate action against her, the president did not act.

Her alleged bullying of former ANCYL member Sizophila Mkhize 

Outside her government job, Ndabeni-Abrahams has also courted controversy. In October 2018 the Sunday World alleged that she had got into a nasty wrestling match with former ANCYL national executive member Sizophila Mkhize whom Ndabeni-Abrahams suspected had sexual intercourse with her husband, Thato Abrahams.

The newspaper reported that Ndabeni-Abrahams, upon getting the news, started posting photos of Mkhize and added spiteful captions and comments on them. That allegedly led to Mkhize asking former ANCYL president Collen Maine to intervene. 

Her controversial husband who allegedly uses her name to advance business interests

The suspended minister’s husband’s alleged actions also drag her down. In January this year, shortly after the honeymoon allegations, the Sunday Times reported that Thato allegedly used his influence to try to grab shares at Yekani Manufacturing in East London. 

When Siphiwe Cele, the chief executive of the factory that manufactured electronics like MultiChoice decoders refused to accede to the demands allegedly made by the state-owned Industrial Development Corporation (IDC), they were financially squeezed to liquidation.

Ndabeni-Abrahams, through her spokesperson, denied the allegations that her husband was behind the collapse of the company. Ndabeni-Abrahams was also accused of outsourcing departmental functions to Thato, by allowing him to interview candidates for positions on the various boards for which she has political oversight.

Political Bureau