Bathabile Dlamini.  Picture: THE TIMES
Bathabile Dlamini. Picture: THE TIMES

When it comes to disdain for the electorate, social development minister Bathabile Dlamini wins hands down — even in a field with extremely stiff competition. If the ANC leadership had any notional commitment to accountability, not only would Dlamini have long been booted out, but her vigorous endorsement of Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma for the ANC presidency would almost certainly have sunk that candidate’s chances.

Ostensibly, Dlamini heads one of the most important portfolios in government, mandated to ensure that 17m of SA’s most vulnerable are paid R10bn in welfare grants every month. Yet, in recent weeks her actions have made it clear that she sees her day job not in terms of leading this vital department, but as a kingmaker in ANC Women’s League politics.

As panic grows, Dlamini is swanning around cocktail parties, lobbying for her candidate rather than fretting about social grants

There are now just seven short weeks to go before the existing grant distribution contract with Cash Paymaster Services (CPS) expires. What happens after April 1, and how the grant recipients will get their money, no-one knows — because Dlamini has failed to table a plan.

Despite this looming deadline, don’t bother looking for Dlamini in her office or in parliament; you’re more likely to find her on the Dlamini-Zuma campaign trail. In January, a critical parliamentary portfolio meeting on the new grant plan was postponed under the dubious guise of “ANC lekgotla obligations”. It turns out she was in Addis Ababa with Dlamini-Zuma, the former AU Commission chair.

Even now, as panic grows, Dlamini is swanning around cocktail parties, lobbying for her candidate rather than fretting about social grants. Last week, news reports detailed how Dlamini had used a church pulpit to preach the Dlamini-Zuma gospel, peddling the dubious message that, just like Jesus, she was both a lion and a lamb.

In this vacuum, a few determined officials in her own department and the SA Social Security Agency (Sassa) took it upon themselves to draw up a plan for how to distribute grants from April.

How did Dlamini respond? She apparently ordered that these officials be prevented from briefing parliament on the plans, as she had other ideas. To their credit, these Sassa employees outmanoeuvred her and presented a credible plan — even if it’s 14 months too late.

This should be the last straw for a tenure pockmarked by ineptitude from the beginning.

Dlamini escaped responsibility for awarding the distribution contract to CPS, which is part of Net1-UEPS, even though the constitutional court later declared the contract invalid. She also dodged accountability when, in 2015, she reissued that tender in such a way it was almost designed to fail and leave CPS in the driving seat.

Instead, her “emergency plan” was to allow CPS to remain entrenched indefinitely as the sole distributor of grants.

Quite why Dlamini is so keen for CPS to stay in charge isn’t clear, though opposition parties suspect CPS may be helping fund the ANC. In the end, it may be left to the constitutional court to introduce Dlamini to the concept of accountability.

Sassa has been providing reports to the court on its progress on handing over the contract. It says it is “on track” to meet the April deadline. But as anyone who attended Sassa’s presentations to parliament will attest, this is either a lie or evidence of a staggering level of ineptitude.

So Sassa will now have to approach the court and ask for an extension to a contract already ruled “invalid”. That won’t sit easily with the judges, who will surely want to impose consequences. Dlamini, who has bullied her way into this disaster, must be the primary target.

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