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

Bathabile Dlamini, president of the ANC Women’s League and minister of social development, has never been particularly comfortable with the rules. Back in 2006, she was one of seven who pleaded guilty in the Travelgate scandal for claiming undue benefits of R254,000 and was sentenced to a fine or five years’ imprisonment.

Now, a decade later and in charge of one of the most mission-critical government departments — with a mandate to pay welfare grants to 17m people every month — Dlamini still seems to struggle with the concept of accountability.

Despite a two-year warning from the constitutional court, which deemed the current contract "invalid", Dlamini failed to appoint a new grant provider to replace Net1 UEPS’s Cash Paymaster Services (CPS). This means that from April 1, government faces no option but to reappoint CPS, without a proper tender process being run.

The cost to the taxpayer: an extra R1.3bn/year, as CPS can now demand up to R25 per beneficiary per month — up from R16.40.

Having dodged parliament for weeks, Dlamini finally appeared before the public accounts committee this week to explain what one MP dubbed an "avalanche of disasters". But then, having stumbled through an initial incoherent statement, Dlamini promptly informed MPs she had somewhere else to be, so she wanted to leave.

The parliamentarians were having none of it.

"She is undermining parliament. This is not a church‚ you cannot just preach and we say ‘amen’ and then you go. You must sit here and account," said EFF MP Mbuyiseni Ndlozi.

She shot back: "I don’t want to be insulted."

Yet Dlamini’s ego should come a distant second to the people she is meant to serve. And had she done her job properly, she wouldn’t have had to account to parliament for her delinquency.

She told parliament that South Africans shouldn’t think "I am arrogant", based on the fact she hadn’t attended parliamentary meetings.

"[I was] never asked why I didn’t attend. The relevant structures knew where I was," she said.

This eloquently explains why this disaster has spiralled out of control. Dlamini clearly doesn’t understand that the "relevant structures" are, in fact, parliament and the country. They are not, despite what she thinks, those of her party.

And yet, even when she then deigned to answer questions, it provided hardly any illumination. She appeared largely clueless, casting around in the dark for answers she clearly didn’t have. "I’m not an expert on certain things," she said often. That would seem an understatement.

If the cliché is true that the measure of a person is revealed best in times of crisis, Dlamini has come up well short this past week.

Last weekend, she convened a shambolic press conference, in which she blamed "the media" for "manufacturing a crisis".

Blaming the media is in vogue, as is evident from US President Donald Trump’s recent unhinged statements. But it isn’t "the media" that failed to act for years after the constitutional court ordered a new tender to be run.

At this stage, a plan will probably be made to ensure grants are paid. But it won’t be thanks to the minister, whose dithering will cost billions.

Dlamini grew up in Nkandla and has been ANC Women’s League president since 2015. She has faced a growing number of calls to resign — from Cosatu, Corruption Watch and others.

It’s not a call one should make lightly, given that the sort of person who should step down is rarely the sort who recognises the need to do so. But in this case, it’s an irresistible call. The country simply doesn’t deserve a leader this bad.

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