Cosatu has called for Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini to resign or be dismissed for her role in the South African Social Services Agency (Sassa) crisis, saying the debacle “smells of corruption”.
“Cosatu is appealing to the president to intervene, and heads need to roll at Sassa,” the trade union federation said in a statement on Thursday. “The minister and her team in the department need to take political responsibility for this crisis by resigning or be dismissed.”
Speaking to the Mail & Guardian, Dlamini hit back: “I’m not at all surprised by the attacks by Cosatu – those ones are known of their arrogance and their patriarchal agenda. Firstly, they must know I never struggled to be a minister and therefore being fired will not take away my membership of the ANC!”
Dlamini repeated an explanation she had given to the treasury on why the department did not favour commercial banks for disbursing the grants – that it would not protect beneficiaries from transaction fees. She added the banks and the Post Office did not have the footprint – especially in the rural areas.
But chief executive Thokozani Magwaza said resorting to commercial banks might be the only choice. “The fallback position will be the banks. If CPS [Cash Paymaster Service] and us don’t agree, I don’t think there is any choice.”
Coastu’s call came after four shambolic days during which Dlamini snubbed Parliament and failed to answer questions about the Sassa crisis as she had promised. Instead, at two separate briefings – one to the standing committee on public accounts (Scopa) and one to the portfolio committee on social development – officials struggled to answer questions from increasingly frustrated MPs across the board.
At the Scopa briefing, the committee was told Magwaza had been booked off ill and an acting chief executive, Thamo Mzobe, had been appointed in his place – but she was not familiar enough with the crisis to brief the committee adequately, it was told.
Speaking to the M&G on Thursday, Magwaza dismissed reports that he was on special leave or suspended. He also dismissed suggestions of tension between him and the minister.
“I am not aware that I am on special leave. The minister never called me about it. I just read about it in the media,” said Magwaza.
He said the relationship between him and the minister was that of an employer and employee. “I am not the friend with the minister. The minister is my boss. So a work relationship is there,” said Magwaza.
While officials were being questioned by Scopa in Cape Town, in Johannesburg Sassa was lodging papers with the Constitutional Court seeking authorisation to negotiate with CPS for the payment of social grants for another year, only to withdraw the application the next day.
Sassa refused to explain why it had sought to withdraw the matter, saying there had been an administrative mistake and that not all submissions had been included.
In a post-Cabinet briefing on Thursday, the minister in the presidency, Jeff Radebe, did not mention Sassa until he was asked about it. He said the Cabinet will meet some time next week to discuss the issue. Less than three weeks remain on the unlawful tender, in terms of which CPS distributes lifeline grants to 17-million beneficiaries.
Sassa and CPS this week met for the first time to negotiate what Sassa insisted would be a new contract with CPS for no more than a year. The negotiations would be based on the terms of the current five-year deal, which ends on March 31, it said.
Sassa insisted that the contract will be new rather than an extension of the current one, which appears to be a bid to circumvent the Constitutional Court.
If it extended the contract, Sassa told Parliament this week, it would need the court’s approval, because it had found the original tender had been unlawfully awarded. If it signed a new contract, it believed it would merely have to inform the court.
Cosatu, following a three-day central executive committee, said the leaders of all its unions had agreed that Dlamini should be sacked.
“This is not just an administrative bungling but it is a political own goal that smells of corruption.”
After Cosatu’s announcement, the ANC’s Zizi Kodwa said: “We demand from government a speedy resolution and certainty of uninterrupted distribution of social grants.”