Ministerial heavyweights Jeff Radebe and David Mahlobo were asked to step in and ward off another crisis, just 20 minutes before the expiry of Monday’s 4pm deadline granted to the South Africa Social Security Agency (Sassa) to file responses to the Constitutional Court.
Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini “put away her dignity” and asked the two to step in to deal with officials bickering over who should sign an affidavit.
In an interview yesterday, Dlamini told City Press she was shocked that the court could hold her personally liable for legal costs related to the social grants crisis, and was consulting with her lawyers about how to fight this.
Minister in the Presidency Radebe and State Security Minister Mahlobo rushed out of an ANC national working committee meeting at Saint George Hotel in Pretoria on Monday to settle the dispute, involving Sassa’s chief executive officer (CEO) Thokozani Magwaza, who had apparently insisted he would only sign the affidavit if it were changed.
Dlamini said she called in Radebe and Mahlobo because Magwaza said he should be the one signing the document, not acting CEO Wiseman Magasela.
“In that meeting, we all looked at the affidavit and we agreed. At the bottom Mr Magasela was supposed to sign. Then the officials went to make some adjustments in the affidavit and when they were supposed to sign, [Magwaza] says: ‘No, no, but I am the CEO, so I am supposed to sign here,’” Dlamini said.
She said lawyers then spoke to Magwaza, who until Monday had been on sick leave for a week, “telling him: ‘But you were not here’”.
“At about 15:40, I went there to find out what was going on because there was something I was also supposed to sign. Then they told me that he was refusing to sign.”
Dlamini said she “put away [her] dignity and ran myself to call ministers Radebe and Mahlobo”.
“They went in there and [Magwaza] said there was no problem,” she said.
Regarding the second delay in filing papers to the Constitutional Court, on Tuesday, Dlamini said this was caused by her having to debate the grants crisis in Parliament.
But on Friday, Magwaza told City Press there was no need for Radebe and Mahlobo to intervene. “The next thing ... Jeff Radebe and David Mahlobo walked in. And I even asked them: ‘Who called you here?’ They were laughing and said: ‘So, everything is fine?’ We said: ‘Everything is fine,’ after which they stood up and left.”
This week, senior government officials accused Radebe, the head of government’s planning, monitoring and evaluation, for being unaware of Sassa’s inability to resolve the grants crisis.
They accused Radebe of neglecting his core responsibilities of monitoring and evaluation, and focusing more on communications.
“What did he do? He should have been giving regular updates to Cabinet on the matter,” said one.
Dlamini denied this, saying: “Radebe played his role. He is one of the ministers who have been talking to me even on the sidelines, wanting to find out what is going on.”
Department of planning, monitoring and evaluation spokesperson Mmabatho Ramompi said: “The department monitors the performance of government in terms of the National Development Plan and the Medium Term Strategic Framework, and provides Cabinet with quarterly reports, including on issues regarding social grants, every quarter. These reports are posted on the department’s website.”
Mahlobo was unable to comment as he was attending the Southern African Development Community troika summit in Swaziland.
On Friday, the Constitutional Court extended the contract of Cash Paymaster Services (CPS) to continue distributing social grants for a year, until April 2018.
The court said Sassa and CPS were under a constitutional obligation to pay social grants until another agency could do so.
Dlamini said she was “shocked” that the court asked her to submit reasons she should not be held liable for the costs of the court application.
“But I took solace in the order that we must write a report by March 31. So, we are going to write the report. We met with the lawyers last night and started to do some work.”
Dlamini repeated her apology to the nation for the crisis yesterday, but complained she was being treated unfairly “because there is this one woman that has to be brought down”.
“People think they can use whatever is there; whether wrongly or correctly, they do that,” she said.
After weeks of denying there was a crisis, “because it has not happened”, President Jacob Zuma yesterday apologised to South Africans “unreservedly”.
“Government deeply regrets the undue anxiety that resulted from the uncertainty over grant distribution,” said Zuma in a statement, adding that he would lead the eight-member interministerial committee on comprehensive social security, which now consists of three additional ministers: Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba, Communications Minister Faith Muthambi, and Posts and Telecommunications Minister Siyabonga Cwele.
Dlamini said last week’s hearings on Sassa by Parliament’s standing committee on public accounts (Scopa), where she came under attack from MPs, was a witch-hunt instigated by “venomous” people inside Sassa with “proximity to politicians”.
“And politicians want to use this process as an entry point without talking to me. I take exception to that,” she said yesterday, adding that they had conspired to make her look “inefficient and clumsy”.
Dlamini said she did not have confidence in Sassa employees because “they have been continuously trying to create confusion and instability [in the agency]”.
She said former Sassa CEO Fezile Makiwane was discredited by the same staff and later won a defamation claim of R10m against the agency.
“I had to take very strong measures to protect [Makiwane’s successor] Virginia Petersen because they also wanted to remove her. And South Africa knows that Virginia was one of the best CEOs Sassa ever had, [but] I also had to go the extra mile to defend her because the very same people that got rid of Makiwane were the very same people that created problems for Virginia.”
Blame Pravin Gordhan
Dlamini said Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan also jumped the gun when he questioned, before Scopa, the interest accrued by Grindrod Bank during the five-day period in which it holds Sassa funds. She said he should have sought clarity on whether the money was being paid back to Sassa before publicly questioning it.
“We get that interest, but what we have not done is to investigate whether that is the correct amount. But we do get that amount and it comes back to Sassa,” she said.
Dlamini added that she was also frustrated by mixed messages from Treasury and that “there was a time I raised the matter with them when we used to get promising responses from [Gordhan] and different responses from his team”.
Dlamini said that she would follow the court order and monitor Sassa closely, and that no one should now accuse her of interfering.
Meanwhile, Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane has announced that she is planning to investigate Sassa. A spokesperson said the office had notified Dlamini and her director-general.
The ANC said Parliament would act against those involved in the Sassa matter and hold them “accountable”.
The SA Communist Party (SACP) has called for Dlamini to be fired and the topic will be back on the agenda in the follow-up bilateral meeting between the SACP and ANC next Monday.