Bathabile Dlamini. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES
Bathabile Dlamini. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES

Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini remains adamant that the controversial work streams that were hired to help the South African Social Security Agency (Sassa) formulate a plan to take over the administration of social grants did not report directly to her.

This was despite three former senior officials from her department insisting that she was controlling the work streams and that they were running parallel processes to Sassa.

The officials — Dlamini’s former special adviser, Sipho Shezi; former social development director-general Zane Dangor; and former Sassa CEO Thokozani Magwaza — have laid the blame for the social grant crisis at the minister’s feet.

"Explain why all three of these senior people would come to this hearing and lie about your involvement with the work streams," said advocate Geoff Budlender, appearing for the Black Sash.

"Why would they all come here and say something which is not true?"

Budlender was cross-examining Dlamini on the second day of the inquiry into whether she should be held personally liable for the Sassa crisis.

Dangor and Magwaza are expected to testify at the inquiry. Both former officials have accused the minister of lying in affidavits submitted to the Constitutional Court.

A visibly frustrated Dlamini was evasive and indirect when answering questions.

She said all three officials were in a meeting at which the work streams had reported back to the department and Sassa. It was up to them to pull her aside and tell her as a minister that she could not be involved in the process.

Budlender then referred to 10 separate official documents that he said proved what the three officials had said and that the work streams were reporting directly to the minister.

The documents referred to the teams as "the ministerial work streams". There was also a letter to former Sassa CEO Virginia Peterson in which Dlamini stated that they would report directly to her.

The minister put this down to inconsistency. "Now I can understand why I am put under such pressure. On some documents the work streams are described as being mine, but elsewhere they are described as belonging to Sassa, so there is no consistency," Dlamini said.

"As far as I can see this is just word play," she said.

Dlamini stood her ground and said there was nothing sinister about the appointment of the work streams and that they were doing government work. She also emphasised that their appointment was accepted and adopted by Sassa’s executives.

Dlamini was caught in a contradiction on Tuesday.

On the first day of the inquiry, she said no one had ever raised concern with her about the work streams. But on Tuesday she conceded that she had received a letter from Magwaza in which he raised issues.

Dlamini admitted to receiving the letter, but when asked again whether it was ever brought to her attention that there was disquiet over the work streams, she responded by saying that she wanted to see Magwaza’s submission.

Judge Bernard Ngoepe, who is leading the inquiry, had to step in on numerous occasions and direct Dlamini to answer simple questions directly.

During cross-examination by Seena Yacoob for Freedom Under Law, Dlamini was asked about an e-mail she had received from Dangor in which he also pointed to issues with the work streams and said it seemed that they were producing parallel documents.

This, he noted, was not helpful to the process of finding a solution to Sassa taking over the paying of social grants.

On the issue of when Dlamini became aware that Sassa would not be able to meet the April 1 2017 deadline to take over the process, the minister said the agency had kept her in the dark until October 2016.