Intimidation of government officials 'worrying' - Black Sash

Former Sassa CEO Thokozani Magwaza. (Amanda Khoza, News24)
Former Sassa CEO Thokozani Magwaza. (Amanda Khoza, News24)

Cape Town – Threats against senior government officials have become a worrying trend, the Black Sash has said, following the resignation of Sassa CEO Thokozani Magwaza.

The NGO said on Monday it noted with concern that Magwaza had accepted an early exit package after less than a year in the position, following good progress in bringing the social grants system in-house.

"His exit follows reports of death threats, a worrying trend of senior government officials being intimidated in the course of performing their work," spokesperson Elsey Philander said.

"Former director general of social development Mr Zane Dangor suffered the same fate with death threats as well as violence, prior to and following his resignation earlier this year."

Dangor's home was ransacked a week after he resigned in March. Nothing was taken, leading to suspicions that it was an attempt at intimidation. His domestic worker and 26-year-old son were both home at the time, and were injured.

The Black Sash was the lead applicant in the Constitutional Court case to resolve the social grants payment debacle.

It expressed concern about whether the SA Social Security Agency (Sassa) would be able to lawfully and timeously find a way to replace current grants payment provider, Cash Paymaster Services (CPS).

The Constitutional Court had ruled in 2014 that Sassa’s contract with CPS was illegal and invalid. It however suspended the order of invalidity until March 31, 2017, to allow Sassa to insource the administrative requirements to distribute grants.

Dlamini probe must not be jeopardised

Magwaza had been leading negotiations with the South African Post Office (Sapo) to help Sassa distribute grants, ahead of the March 2018 deadline to end the contract with CPS.

He recently cancelled the contracts of the so-called "work streams" which Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini put in place three years ago to advise on the process.

South Africans and grant beneficiaries in particular should not have to experience yet another extension of the invalid CPS contract, Philander said.

"We hope that Magwaza’s exit from Sassa will not place the outstanding Constitutional Court matter on whether Minister Dlamini should be held liable for legal costs, as well as the investigation into the parallel work streams, in jeopardy."

Dlamini on Monday said Magwaza resigned following a "consultative process" led by the head of legal services, advocate Nkosinathi Dladla.

Department spokesperson Lumka Oliphant told News24 earlier on Monday that the department had not received any official complaint about the threats from either Sassa or Magwaza.

'Orchestrated campaign'

Parliament's watchdog committee Scopa on Monday condemned death threats made against Magwaza.

Scopa chairperson Themba Godi said it was shocking that Dlamini had not "said a word or stood in solidarity with Mr Magwaza".

Godi condemned what he considered an "orchestrated campaign" to remove accounting officers who clashed with their political principals.

Two directors general of the departments of water and sanitation, and agriculture, forestry and fisheries were suspended last week for reportedly disagreeing with their political principals.

Parliament’s water committee chairperson Mlungisi Johnson on Monday said the portfolio committee was alarmed by media reports of the suspension of director general Dan Mashitisho.

"The suspension of the DG brings to five the number of senior management services members suspended at the department, which does not bode well for corporate governance at the department.

"The achievement of performance targets will also be at risk with so many drivers of the department’s strategy on suspension," Johnson said.

The committee would talk to the department to ensure the speedy finalisation of all disciplinary cases.

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