JOHANNESBURG, 8 April (Reuters) – South African President Cyril Ramaphosa put the minister of communication on “special leave” for two months, one of which was not paid, on Wednesday for breaking the lockdown rules across the country and having lunch with former officials.
Ramaphosa acted after pictures of Minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams at lunch appeared on social media, angering South Africans who were locked up in their homes for 21 days of lockdowns that began on March 27 to control the coronavirus outbreak.
According to the locking rules, people are only allowed to leave home for important tasks such as buying food or seeking medical help. Police arrested more than 17,000 people during the first few days of locking, many for breaking the rules.
“The president strongly believes that no one, including ministers, is above the law,” Ramaphosa spokesman Khusela Diko said.
“He said that none of us can damage our national efforts to save lives in this very serious situation.”
The country’s largest opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, has asked Ramaphosa to fire Ndabeni-Abrahams and file a criminal complaint against him over “locked lunches”.
Minister in the presidency of Jackson Mthembu will act as minister of communication while Ndabeni-Abrahams is on leave.
Ndabeni-Abrahams has led government efforts to reduce data prices and improve policy certainty in the telecommunications sector, including through high demand spectrum licensing.
He is not the first government minister to break the lock rule – New Zealand Health Minister David Clark took his family to the beach in the early stages of locking there.
The chief Scottish medical officer retreated after breaking the lock by visiting his second home.
(Reporting by Alexander Winning; Editing by Nick Macfie)
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