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

There’s a growing school of thought that says the biggest risk to SA isn’t the jobs bloodbath in the mining sector or even slow growth; it’s the continued presence of Bathabile Dlamini anywhere near political authority.

The 54-year-old Dlamini, a qualified social worker who pleaded guilty to fraud in the 2006 Travelgate saga, holds perhaps the most pivotal position in SA when it comes to protecting the country’s most disenfranchised citizens.

For starters, she is head of the ANC Women’s League, which has campaigned fearlessly — though probably unintentionally — to ensure patriarchy remains firmly entrenched as a guiding principle in SA households.

Forget campaigning to change the fact that only 28% of senior roles in business are held by women, or working to actually convene that commission of inquiry into gender-based violence the women’s league called for in 2013.

No, when given a platform last week, Dlamini’s crew defended the outsize presence of men in their delegation to the ANC policy conference by arguing that women tend to be too "emotional". At every turn, the league has also gone out of its way to defend President Jacob Zuma — a man famous for the enlightened sentiment that "kids are important to a woman because they actually give extra training to a woman, to be a mother".

But it is in government, as social development minister, that Dlamini has done arguably even more damage. The importance of her role — to oversee SA’s social welfare system, under which R11bn is delivered to 17m of the country’s indigent every month — can’t be overemphasised.

Yet this week, it emerged that Dlamini has ousted yet another of the few skilled and independent-minded technocrats still working in the public sector — Thokozani Magwaza — because, it seems, he dared exposed her deception.

For the past year, Magwaza has been CEO of the SA Social Security Agency (Sassa), the government-run company that handles the grant payments.

But the highly principled Magwaza effectively called Dlamini a liar when she tried to blame everyone else for failing to meet the constitutional court deadline to find a new company to distribute grants by April. Magwaza told the court she actually knew exactly what had been going on since 2015, but had "derailed" all Sassa’s plans.

Worse, Magwaza is the second highly rated official to be shown the door. Dlamini’s director-general Zane Dangor quit in March, after months of clashing with Dlamini over her curiously single-minded determination to ensure Cash Paymaster Services kept the grant contract.

But it is the mafia-style intimidation of Magwaza and Dangor that is the most disturbing element of this saga. In March, Dangor’s house was broken into — a move he believed was designed to get him to "shut up". Magwaza also received death threats for cancelling the dubious "work streams" that Dlamini set up to oversee the grants. Now, is that just a coincidence?

This week, Themba Godi, the chairman of parliament’s public accounts committee, said government ought to protect Magwaza from the "brazen lawlessness by a criminal gang of rent seekers who want to intimidate [him]".

Godi said it was shocking that Dlamini "has not said a word" to support Magwaza.

But, then, she has been extremely busy: driving SA’s welfare system to the precipice, campaigning for Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma as if her career depends on it (it does), and conniving to remove the last capable hands around her.

In recent months, we’ve seen some of SA’s worst disappear, including Hlaudi Motsoeneng and Ben Ngubane. Dlamini’s turn in the cold couldn’t come soon enough. With the arguable exception of Zuma himself, her influence has been more damaging to the wider SA society than that of any of the president’s apparatchiks.

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