Combative, evasive Dlamini steers herself towards disaster

NEWS ANALYSIS 

Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini this week sought a definition of “meeting” before she could confirm that she had one.

She also had difficulty with the phrase “operational control”, more trouble with the meaning of the word “control”, and she struggled with the idea of “free engagement”.

Under cross-examination during an inquiry into her role in the social grants debacle, she refused to read parts of documents that contradicted her version of events. In other instances, she insisted on reading out loud full documents or paragraphs, insisting that the context would otherwise be lost.

She would not affirm such simple propositions as the payment of 17-million grants is the most important part of her job.


Several admonitions notwithstanding, she would rarely answer yes-or-no questions with anything so simple.

She refused to comment on matters such as why all her senior staff, including some she still trusts implicitly, kept her in the dark about crucial developments — which imposed legal obligations on her — for months on end.

She would not explain how she could claim ignorance on matters documentary evidence shows she was informed about. Nor would she backtrack on her claims of ignorance.

Instead, in a hearing centred on whether she had disrespected the Constitutional Court and perjured herself, Dlamini wrapped herself in a cloak of defiant arrogance and tied herself in knots as she sought to evade personal responsibility.

The results were bizarre. In one particularly circular argument, Dlamini insisted that it was possible to misinterpret a letter she wrote, in which she clearly ordered the creation of controversial “workstreams”, to mean that she had decided to create the workstreams.

Missing from the document, Dlamini said, was the context — that she had made any such apparent decision in close consultation with what was then a ministerial advisory committee.

The workstreams were a reincarnation of that same advisory committee, which would mean the workstreams appointed themselves.

Dlamini simultaneously held that, as far as she was concerned, the creation of the workstreams conformed with the strict requirements of public finance (which was not the case) and that the decision had been correct because nobody ever complained about the process followed.

In like fashion, Dlamini argued that she had not usurped the role of the South African Social Security Agency (Sassa) by appointing those workstreams to do Sassa’s job while reporting directly to her, because there had been no complaints from Sassa.

When she was shown documents revealing complaints, Dlamini initially confirmed their authenticity without offering any comment. Later she volunteered information that there had been discussions and complaints — contrary to her earlier assertions — but that she had thought the matter resolved.

Dlamini confirmed that Sassa had been aware of a legal requirement that it inform the Constitutional Court of a looming crisis a year before it arose. She said two of her still-trusted officials had since apologised for mistakenly withholding that information from her for six months.

For the remaining six months, she explained, once she became aware of the obligation and its urgency, the problem was the lack of a substantial plan. So, with nothing constructive to tell the Constitutional Court, she opted simply to tell it nothing at all.

Throughout proceedings, Dlamini clung to what she clearly considered trump cards, such as the fact that the workstreams she says were not hers were only occasionally (rather than consistently) labelled as “minister’s workstreams” in official documents.

She seemed unaware that advocates were patiently placing on the record instance after instance when she was, at best, not telling the truth, building up a report for the Constitutional Court to show that she had been dishonest in general and acting in bad faith in some cases.

The court has already found her ultimately responsible for the social grants crisis itself, which imperilled the continued payment of social grants and so, according to Sassa’s own admission, risked the country being set aflame.

Dlamini now faces being ordered to personally pay the cost of some of those Constitutional Court proceedings, plus the costs of this week’s inquiry. Those are conservatively estimated to amount to about R5-million.

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Phillip De Wet
Guest Author

Related stories

Public protector’s ‘mistakes’ were made to nail the president, court hears

Busisiwe Mkhwebane discarded facts that were inconvenient to her when she investigated the CR17 campaign, Cyril Ramaphosa’s lawyers argued

General Council of the Bar slams Zuma Foundation

Another summons has been served on Jacob Zuma at his Nkandla residence, requiring the former president to appear before the Zondo Commission next year

CR17 report is not perfect, but the investigation was rational, court hears

So says public protector Busisiwe Mkwhebane’s lawyer, who said she had reason to suspect the money was being laundered through the campaign

Zondo tightens his grip with criminal complaint against Zuma

The state capture commission’s star witness now faces a criminal complaint and another summons

#CR17 fight heads to the Constitutional Court

amaBhungane’s arguments about the disclosure of campaign funding are also expected to be heard

Citizens win case for safe childbirth

In Uganda 16 women in labour die each day. One woman, backed by a civil society organisation, took the state to court
Advertising

Subscribers only

Q&A Sessions: Frank Chikane on the rainbow where colours never...

Reverend Frank Chikane has just completed six years as the chairperson of the Kagiso Trust. He speaks about corruption, his children’s views and how churches can be mobilised

ANC: ‘We’re operating under conditions of anarchy’

In its latest policy documents, the ANC is self-critical and wants ‘consequence management’, yet it’s letting its members off the hook again

More top stories

Shabnim Ismail bowls her way into the record books Down...

The night before Australia’s Women’s Big Bash League (WBBL) final, fiery South African fast bowler Shabnim Ismail lay awake pondering how...

Hawks make arrest in matric maths paper leak

Themba Daniel Shikwambana, who works at a printing company, was granted bail and is due to return to court in January

Andile Lungisa: Early parole for the house of truth

Disgraced Nelson Mandela Bay councillor Andile Lungisa calls for a change of leadership in the ANC immediately after being released on parole

War of words at Zondo commission: ‘Grow up Mr Gordhan,...

The cross-examination of the public enterprises minister by Tom Moyane’s lawyers at the state capture inquiry went on well into overtime on Monday evening
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…