Social development minister Bathabile Dlamini’s bodyguards intervened to protect her from questions by executives at the South African Social Security Agency (Sassa) in the midst of a social grants crisis, former Sassa chief executive Thokozani Magwaza testified on Friday.
Throughout the crisis Dlamini either did not appear when summoned or would not answer questions in Parliament, and also refused to answer questions from the media.
But that attitude also extended to meetings with the very agency which, at the time, was due to prevent a national crisis in the payment of 17-million social grants, Magwaza’s testimony suggests.
Magwaza is testifying before an inquiry centred on whether Dlamini misled the Constitutional Court.
Dlamini has refused to take personal responsibility for the crisis, saying she did not have direct control of the process that was supposed to see Sassa bring the payment of grants in-house.
Magwaza, however, described a Dlamini that not only took the reins, but refused to discuss the matter, with the help of bodyguards.
Magwaza said he had been on his way to an ordinary meeting of the executive committee of Sassa in February 2017 when he was alerted to the fact that state security agents were securing the venue in preparation for Dlamini’s attendance. She had not been due to attend.
Magwaza said that as chairperson of the meeting, he postponed ordinary business in order to give Dlamini an opportunity to have her say. Dlamini, however, would not speak until after a presentation by project manager and her apparent confidant Zodwa Mvulane, involving controversial “work streams”, external consultants supposed to enable Sassa to do grant payments itself.
“All hell hell broke loose after Ms Mvulane had presented,” said Magwaza. “The minister started saying so many things to us… saying I did not like the work streams, I’m not giving the work streams a chance to do their job… [She said] ‘CEO you are not doing your job… concentrate on the day-to-day… stop interfering with the work streams… the work streams were appointed by me and report to me.”
Then, said Magwaza, Dlamini walked out. He followed, to urge her to come back inside and discuss the issue instead of leaving.
“She didn’t say a word. Her protectors stood up, ganged around her as if I were attacking her.”
Dlamini has testified that she was not aware of unhappiness within Sassa about her work streams until well after that meeting, and refused to accept that the work streams reported directly to her. She also denied that she had direct control of Sassa or the decisions of the CEO, saying her role was only one of “concurrence”.