Former Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini was an evasive and obstructive witness during an inquiry into whether she should be held personally liable for the costs incurred during the Sassa payments crisis, the inquiry heard on Monday.
During his closing argument at the Office of the Chief Justice in Midrand, Geoff Budlender― for Black Sash― argued that Dlamini’s approach to the inquiry was not befitting of an accountable minister.
Dlamini had faced four days of cross-examination in January where she was reprimanded by the chair of the inquiry, retired judge Bernard Ngoepe, for avoiding questions.
The Constitutional Court ordered last year that an inquiry be held to investigate whether she should be held personally liable for the costs.
Budlender added that Dlamini had lied in her affidavit that she had not played a dominant role in the workstreams around grants.
Concurring with Budlender, Freedom Under Law’s (FUL) advocate Andreas Coutsoudis argued that Dlamini had misled the Constitutional Court when she said that she took no interest in the meetings of the workstreams.
“The minister took the view that it would be more dangerous to tell ConCourt of these meetings,” Coutsoudis said.
“The credibility of the minister is far from ideal.”
‘Drunk with power’
Former South African Social Security Agency (Sassa) CEO Thokozani Magwaza testified in January that he thought Dlamini was “drunk with power”.
Magwaza described how Dlamini barged into an executive committee meeting without warning and reprimanded him in front of his subordinates.
He added that Dlamini would also change advisors on a whim.
“[The] problem was, [the] minister was running Sassa like her own shop,” he said.
On Monday, Magwaza’s advocate Richard Solomon argued that Magwaza was a victim of Dlamini’s attempted deception to try and absolve herself.
During his closing arguments, Solomon told the inquiry chair that Dlamini’s version had changed numerous times to advance her arguments.
“The way her version has moved, from the time she deposed her affidavit to her legal submission, leads one to the conclusion that there has been deception,” he said.
He added that Dlamini had a persistent desire to conceal her part in the crisis.
“It’s unfortunate that she seems to blame Magwaza for her failures… Magwaza is someone who values his reputation, values the work he did. He was an honest witness,” Solomon argued.
It showed disdain and disregard
Democratic Alliance MP Bridget Masango said that the closing arguments confirmed what the DA had been trying to advance in Parliament.
“Listening to the summaries of what the various counsels were saying about the minister as a witness just echoed at every step that this huge project concerning so many South Africans was just a big game to the minister.”
Masango added that it was embarrassing to hear that Dlamini ran Sassa like her own spaza shop. During closing arguments, Solomon alleged that Dlamini would run meetings from her home.
“It showed the disdain and the disregard that the minister had for work. It is extremely extraordinary incompetence on her part and that is cause for concern for South Africans.”
Last year, the Constitutional Court ordered the inquiry to establish whether Dlamini had sought the appointment of individuals to lead the various “workstreams” to report directly to her.
Further, the court ordered the inquiry to investigate the details of the appointments, such as when people were appointed, who they reported to, and the dates and contents of the report of the workstreams to the minister.
Lastly, the inquiry also looked into why the minister did not disclose this information to the court. —News24