“The devil is a liar,” exclaimed a voice from the green-and-yellow clad observers in the court gallery as convicted perjurer and ANC Women’s League (ANCWL) president Bathabile Dlamini accompanied her defence to pay R20 000 of a R200 000 deferred fine after sentencing in the Johannesburg magistrate’s court on Friday.
Dlamini, the former minister of social development, was found guilty of perjury earlier in March for lying under oath about her role in the 2018 South African Social Security Agency (Sassa) grant payments debacle during an inquiry.
Judge Betty Khumalo handed down a four-year prison sentence or the option of the fine, which included two years suspended, or a R100 000 fine suspended.
The sentencing was followed by weeping among women’s league members who were flanked by suspended ANC secretary general Ace Magashule and suspended ANC North West provincial chair Supra Mahumapelo as the so-called radical economic transformation faction of the party concluded another week of judicial blows.
Earlier this week the Bloemfontein High Court dismissed an application by Magashule, the former Free State premier, and three co-accused to have corruption charges against them withdrawn.
At the same time, the ANC’s top brass is mulling over Dlamini’s fate in the party in the wake of the 2017 “step aside” resolution.
“The offence committed by the accused is serious and must deter her and would be offenders,” said Khumalo, who emphasised that Dlamini’s conduct reflected a character of dishonesty “whereas the office she occupied demanded a high standard of honesty and accountability.”
“She was in charge of a department which was responsible for the majority of our ordinary citizens in dire situations having to face uncertainty regarding their social grant. The giving of false evidence or making false statements made under oath tends to critically and severely affect the moral precinct of our society and impedes the administration of justice,” she said in her ruling.
The constitutional court was forced to extend the Cash Paymaster Services invalid contract because Sassa had no other plan to pay grants when that contract ended. At the time, a commission of inquiry into whether Dlamini should be held liable for the Sassa grants crisis concluded that she was evasive when questions were put to her.
Judge Bernard Ngoepe, who chaired the inquiry, said Dlamini failed to answer simple questions – something he had mentioned while the inquiry was under way.
The inquiry investigated whether Dlamini had sought the appointment of individuals to lead the various work streams that would report directly to her. Dlamini did not disclose this to the constitutional court, Ngoepe said.
During her ruling earlier in March, Khumalo found that Dlamini knowingly and intentionally “disposed of false evidence in substance to the effect that the work streams did not directly report to her, that she did not attend meetings of the work streams.”
It is Dlamini’s second conviction. In 2016 she was convicted after pleading guilty to fraud in the travelgate scandal involving parliamentarians abusing state travel vouchers to pay for other services.
Khumalo said both the previous conviction and the current conviction for perjury have an element of misrepresentation and dishonesty, yet she “made it to be a minister”. While Dlamini stared at the bench without a trace of emotion on her face, Khumalo reminded the gallery that while public sentiment could not be ignored during sentencing, it must not interfere with the court’s responsibility to be just and fair to a perpetrator.
“Such conduct should not be tolerated or easily condoned from any member of society. The community expects to see justice being done by punishing such conduct. The law shouldn’t be seen to distinguish when it comes to protecting and/or when punishing the diverse members of our society,” she said.
“The perception that the rich or the leading members of our society get away with injustice should be done away. Respectable members of society who hold high and authoritative positions of power should not get away with dishonesty but must take responsibility and remain accountable. Therefore the effect of the sentence should be sensed as far away as Cape Town in parliament to the Union Buildings in Pretoria and by the ordinary and downtrodden members of society,” Khumalo said.
Dlamini has until 29 April to settle the remaining R80 000 of her fine or risk serving her two-year prison term. The court considered her defence submission that she currently earns R40 000 a month and an additional R70 000 a month as a stipend for her role as president of the women’s league. But this may not be the case in June, they said, when the league holds its conference.
Meanwhile, scores of supporters chanted jovially as Dlamini left the court with the party’s suspended leaders, including axed military vets spokesperson Carl Niehaus.
Magashule used his speech to speak about the party’s upcoming elective conference later this year when they should expect offers and bribes for votes. He told the audience that they should take the money because “they need it”, but vote for someone else because their votes are their secret.