Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini jeopardised the achievement of SA’s constitutional democracy that promotes the reduction of poverty, unemployment and inequality through social grants and state-backed assistance.
This was the scathing judgement on Friday by Justice Johan Froneman, who put the blame for the social grant crisis squarely on Dlamini and the South African Social Security Agency (Sassa), which is under her watch.
The court has taken umbrage with the fact that Sassa assured it in November 2015 that it would be able to take over grant payments after the contract of social grant distribution company Cash Paymaster Services’ (CPS) expired on March 31, 2017.
This was after the same court ruled that the contract between Sassa and CPS (concluded in 2012) was constitutionally invalid as it didn’t go through proper tender processes.
However, Sassa reneged on its promise to take over grant payments, engineering a cloud of doubt about whether more than 10 million beneficiaries, who are collectively paid R11 billion per month, would receive their social grants come April 1.
Froneman said Dlamini and Sassa knew that it wouldn’t be able to take over grant payments since April 2016 and failed to inform the court in a timeous manner. It didn’t even inform the court it planned to extend CPS’ invalid contract when it expired. “Despite repeated warnings from advising counsel and CPS, neither Sassa nor the minister took any steps to inform the court of the problems they were experiencing. Nor did they see fit to approach the court for the authorisation to regularise the situation,” he said in his judgement.
The court was only informed on February 28, despite Dlamini being informed in October 2016 that Sassa couldn’t carry grant payments. “There must be public accounting for how this [not informing the court earlier] was allowed to happen. Accountability is a central value of the Constitution.”
Dlamini got her wish, as the Constitutional Court has ordered that the contract between CPS and the Sassa should be extended for 12 months, effective from April 1.
The “deepest and most shaming of ironies”, said Froneman, is that Sassa now seeks to rely on a company (US-Nasdaq and JSE-listed Net1, the parent company of CPS) without a commitment to transformation in its management structures. This is arguably a dig at government’s rhetoric of combating “white monopoly capital” and that the private sector has failed to commit to Black Economic Empowerment (BEE).
Froneman said the conduct of Dlamini and Sassa put SA’s grant recipients at “grave risk” and threatened to breach their right to social assistance under section 27 (1) (c) of the constitution. However, he put the blame squarely on Dlamini for the Sassa crisis, as she is the minister accountable to parliament and holds “executive political office.”
After all, both Dlamini and President Jacob Zuma have repeatedly denied that there is a crisis around Sassa payments.