'Protect me from yourself' - SARS IT head's bizarre TV interview goes viral

Business Insider SA
SARS IT head Mmamathe Makhekhe-Mokhuane on SABC's Morning Live on Wednesday morning (screenshot)
  • An interview with SARS’ head of IT went viral on social media for all the wrong reasons.  
  • Mmamathe Makhekhe-Mokhuane failed to give coherent responses to questions about the institution's crumbling IT infrastructure. 
  • There was widespread outrage on social media following the interview. 

An SABC interview with SARS chief officer for digital and IT, Mmamathe Makhekhe-Mokhuane, went viral on social media after she seemed unable to answer questions about the tax collector’s IT and e-Filing infrastructure.

Speaking to Sakina Kamwendo on SABC's Morning Live programme early on Wednesday morning, Makhekhe-Mokhuane failed to give coherent answers to questions about the enormous IT problems at SARS.

This week, the Nugent inquiry into SARS heard that the institution's digital infrastructure was on the verge of collapse after then SARS commissioner Tom Moyane halted a modernisation programme four years ago. 

When asked about why the programme was halted, she responded: 

“I joined SARS about a year ago and of course, my understanding of modernisation is to automate processes including how people do things.

“So, I am not in a position to answer how it was, and why it was halted.” 

Andre Rabie, acting group executive for IT strategy and enterprise at SARS, on Monday told the Nugent Inquiry that it would cost the tax collector R1 billion to fix problems with its e-Filing system.

“An [e-Filing] crash is imminent in 2020,” he reportedly said.But during the SABC interview, Makhekhe-Mokhuane denied that R1 billion is needed, and said only “human resources” are required to fix the system. 

She said she didn’t get the necessary budget to upgrade the digital infrastructure at SARS. “So, at the moment, what we are doing is to make sure that whatever is dying tomorrow, we put up, we make sure that there’s a back-up for it,” she said.

She constantly repeated that she was only appointed in 2017 in answer to questions during the 14-minute interview. When asked about the impact of the abrupt halt to the modernisation programme, she responded by saying insourcing at SARS was necessary to give employees’ children bursaries. 

When asked again about what needs to be done to fix SARS’ IT infrastructure, Makhekhe-Mokhuane told Kamwendo: "Ma-am, can you give me protection from yourself." 

Kamwendo and the cameramen can be heard laughing in the background following the comment.  

A clip of the interview has triggered widespread outrage on Twitter. 

“This person is clueless & worse part her arrogancy & failing 2 give us the info,” @HadebeM2 tweeted. “That was a complete wasted opportunity & waste of our time.” 

“Mam can you give me protection from yourself,” @PhiriCJ tweeted. 

Nugent testimony

Following the SABC interview, Makhekhe-Mokhuane started to testify at the Nugent commission on Wednesday morning.

Here, also, her opaque answers raised eyebrows.

When asked what she meant in her submission when she referred to the long tenure of SARS employees, she answered that the "Drakensberg Boys Choir was established in 1867 and in 2018 girls are still not allowed to sing".

The comment was met with puzzlement, and she then abandoned the analogy.

She also referenced a couple fighting over a toothpaste cap in her testimony.

Makhekhe-Mokhuane's CV

Despite her on-air performance on Wednesday morning, Makhekhe-Mokhuane has a long track-record in government IT services. 

According to the SARS website, Makhekhe-Mokhuane  has “several Information Technology diplomas from a number of Institutions” and earned an MBA from the University of North West. She worked in various technology roles at government since 1992, including at the department of finance. She also served as chief information officer at the departments of transport, communication and, most recently, water and sanitation.

She was in the news last year after leaked emails showed that she strongly objected to a suspect R950 million SAP IT contract for the department of water and sanitation.

Last year, MTN named Makhekhe-Mokhuane as one of its top three finalists in the leadership category of its Women in ICT Awards.

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