Evil genius

2017-03-15 06:04

IT was a strange sight in the National Assembly when Minister Pravin Gordhan finished his budget speech.

I never thought I would see the day when senior members of the ANC and fellow Cabinet members refuse to applaud a finance minister from their own party, while the opposition stood in prolonged applause.

It could be a sign of a robust democracy that there is competition inside the ruling party and that people do not just applaud robotically because an ANC member delivered a momentous speech.

But the divisions in the ANC are not as a result of a healthy contestation of ideas. They are a result of a destructive battle for power and resources.

Outside Parliament, I asked one of Gordhan’s fiercest critics, Social Development Minister and president of the ANC Women’s League (ANCWL) Bathabile Dlamini, for her reaction to the budget.

She could hardly contain her disdain, saying the ANCWL still needed to study the speech.

The next day, the ANCWL issued a statement that was more scathing than anything the ANC’s fiercest critics had uttered.

It claimed there were “incoherences” between President Jacob Zuma’s State of the Nation Address and the budget speech. If this trickled down to other departments, it would lead to “a direct sabotage to the radical socioeconomic transformation agenda of the ANC-led government”, the ANCWL said.

I asked Dlamini about the pending crisis in the social grants system with no contractor in place to disburse payments to 17 million recipients from April 1.

She told me that she had not asked the National Treasury for more funding to deal with the problem and merely requested a “deviation” of funds already in her department’s budget to retain Cash Paymaster Services (CPS) as the contractor until a new tender could be put out.

It was stunning that Dlamini saw this as the only cause of the problem and accepted no responsibility for the chaos that led to the Constitutional Court declaring the contract invalid and South Africa being three weeks away from a possible social implosion.

In her mind, it was Gordhan who was the problem.

After speaking to her, I watched Dlamini pose for pictures with her friends outside Parliament, laughing uproariously at their jokes.

Since then, she has refused to account to Parliament for the shambles and lack of a clear plan to ensure the payment of grants.

Dlamini clearly does not care about the longer-term solution to the problem, which is to set in place a credible and efficient payment system that does not rip off the taxpayer and grant recipients.

Her interest is to keep CPS’s lucrative contract in place for another 18 months and to continue to reap the benefits from it. By that time, her candidate for president Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma will be elected as the ANC leader and ready to take over the country. As chief campaigner, there will no doubt be a high-flying position for Dlamini.

It was astounding that the Cabinet met on Wednesday and made no mention of the crisis in its statement released on Thursday.

Minister in the Presidency Jeff Radebe said a special meeting will be held next week to discuss the matter.

This feels like multiple train lines being set on a collision course and everyone standing back to watch the spectacular crash.

There will no doubt be an 11th-hour intervention to ensure that CPS’s contract is extended or a new contract is set in place as an interim measure so that the grants are paid.

That is exactly what Dlamini wants, which is why she is not panicked about the catastrophe facing millions of people.

She wants Gordhan to blink first and allow her to do what she wants. She is confident that she has political protection even if things go horribly wrong and South Africa’s most vulnerable citizens pay the price.

There have been many disasters in post democracy South Africa, but this is simply evil genius.

• Ranjeni Munusamy is a political journalist and commentator for the Daily Maverick. ranjeni.munusamy@gmail.com

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