South Africa

Queen Con: Bathabile Dlamini, the face of the ANC’s future

By Ranjeni Munusamy 6 March 2017

Under ordinary circumstances, there would be no reason for us to mention Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini and struggle giant Ahmed Kathrada in the same sentence. On Sunday, they both featured on the news agenda as Dlamini had a public meltdown over the social grants crisis and news broke that Kathrada was recovering from brain surgery. These two people epitomise the ANC of the past and the present. One stood at the side of South Africa’s first president and the other has taken it upon herself to choose South Africa’s next president. One dedicated his life to the struggle for human rights; the other is putting the lives of over 17 million vulnerable people at risk – because she can. By RANJENI MUNUSAMY.

At 11:03 pm on Saturday night, the Government Communication and Information Service issued a media alert on behalf of the Department of Social Development that a media briefing on the social grants payments system would be held on Sunday morning at 9am.

The Minister of Social Development, Ms Bathabile Dlamini, will brief members of the media on progress regarding the institutionalisation of the social grants payment system within the South African Social Security Agency (SASSA) beyond the 31st March 2017 when the current contract with Cash Paymaster Services expires.

The Department of Social Development and SASSA would like to reassure Social grant beneficiaries that they WILL get their social grants on April 1, 2017.”

Anyone reading this would presume that at the media briefing, Dlamini would give details, as stated, on “the institutionalisation of the social grants payment system” beyond March 31, and explain how beneficiaries would receive their grants on April 1. One also would presume that Dlamini and her spokesperson, Lumka Oliphant, anticipated that because of the enormity of the issue, the massive public interest and the unfolding controversy on the matter, there would be a barrage of questions from the media.

The trick, therefore, was to come prepared – to answer as many of the questions in the minister’s written statement and explain the process ahead to quell the public confusion and anxiety. In light of the sudden resignation of Zane Dangor, the director-general of the Department of Social Development on Friday, it would also have been prudent to acknowledge his departure as there were bound to be questions about it.

But in the alternate universe in which they exist, Dlamini and Oliphant decided they could come to the media briefing with absolutely nothing to announce and con the public into thinking that all was well. Dlamini stammered through a 2,658-word statement that contained no specific details about the future plans for SASSA, even though it contained a section that read “Future Plans for SASSA”.

Bizarrely, that section contained a four-phase payment plan to be implemented from the year 2013, and the phasing out of the current service provider, Cash Paymaster Services, in 2015/16 – 2016/17. The department was thus announcing an implementation plan that they had not implemented and could not implement retrospectively.

Regarding the next phases, the statement speaks about a “transition” from April 2017 – March 2019 and “full roll out” from April 2019. It provides no details about how this would be done.

That, on its own, was a recipe for disaster.

But Dlamini and Oliphant were on such a power trip that they believed they could also refuse to answer questions on Dangor’s resignation, the whereabouts of the SASSA chief executive officer Thokozani Magwaza and the court action against the department. Oliphant tried to block and restrict questions while Dlamini engaged in a heated exchange with eNCA reporter Karyn Maughan, in which she blamed the media for creating the impression that there was a crisis in the grants payment system. She said she would not respond to “people who want to impose themselves on us”.

You’ve created a lot of tension throughout the country. It’s our grandmothers and grandfathers that will walk long distances,” Dlamini said.

When Maughan asked about Magwaza’s whereabouts, Dlamini responded: “How should we account about people that are on sick leave? You are really ill-treating us!”

The Presidency announced on Saturday that President Jacob Zuma held a meeting with Dlamini and Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan and was “of the view that the matters are solvable”. From Dlamini’s tirade at Sunday’s briefing, it is clear that her only idea for a solution is for National Treasury to participate in the negotiations with Cash Paymaster Services (CPS) and authorise the budget deviation she requested to extend the contract. She clearly has no appreciation of the conflict of interest that would arise from Treasury acting as a participant in the negotiations process and then authorising the agreement.

But Dlamini appears to have a very limited understanding of her powers and limitations as minister, her constitutional obligations to the country and the consequences of her failures. She accepts no responsibility for the impending disaster with the livelihood of over 17 million people at risk. In her bubble of arrogance and narcissism, Dlamini believes she can bully everyone, from the officials in her department, her Cabinet colleague and the media, to get her way.

Despite this striking disconnect from reality, Dlamini believes she is best placed to decide who South Africa’s next president should be. She is on the campaign trail for Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma to be elected as the ANC’s leader in December and thus take the reins of the country in 2019.

The ANC has allowed Dlamini to flout their own resolution that prohibits the naming of candidates and campaigning until after their mid-year policy conference. The ANC has also remained dead silent on Dlamini’s mismanagement of the grant payment system, despite her creating the basis for mass social upheaval in the country. Any interruption in the payment of grants would be deadly for the ANC’s reputation. It would kill off the remnants of trust people still have in the organisation.

The reason the ANC is unable to speak out is because as disgraceful as Dlamini’s conduct is, she is not an aberration in government. The ANC has allowed corruption and rot to infest the state under Zuma’s leadership. Dlamini might be utterly inept, arrogant and useless, but she is politically invincible. Her campaign for Dlamini-Zuma to be president is to retain the status quo so that people like her who use the state as a feeding trough are able to continue enjoying high office and political protection.

So far, Dlamini-Zuma has allowed Dlamini to act as her campaigner-in-chief with no qualms about her sponsor’s agenda. Dlamini’s dangerous gamble with the lives of the poor, the elderly, children and the disabled should have prompted Dlamini-Zuma to distance herself from someone so grossly irresponsible and incompetent. The fact that Dlamini-Zuma has not done so is a great indictment on her judgment as South Africa’s prospective next president.

But, Dlamini-Zuma could still be elected ANC president, with Dlamini’s help. Even with her bumbling con artistry, Dlamini is a solid feature and a significant player in the once respected ANC. She could play an important role in determining the party’s future.

The ANC under her and her faction’s stewardship will hold no resemblance to the organisation that produced global icons such as Oliver Tambo, Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu and Ahmed Kathrada.

Kathrada is in a Johannesburg hospital after undergoing surgery on Saturday to remove clotting on his brain. The 87-year-old stalwart was initially admitted into hospital for dehydration when the clotting was discovered. While the operation was successful, the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation’s director Neeshan Balton says it would be “some time before Kathrada fully recovers”.

In recent months, Kathrada has expressed his concerns about the situation in the ANC and the country. He came out in support of Gordhan when there were attempts to charge the finance minister, and participated in the initiative by ANC stalwarts to intervene in the leadership crisis. Kathrada also supported the campaign by lobby group Save South Africa for Zuma to step down.

But even the consternation of the liberation heroes is not enough to jolt the ANC to halt the decline. It remains in a state of paralysis as the likes of Zuma and Dlamini deliver the organisation and the state to a politically connected network.

It is therefore up to ordinary South Africans to uphold the legacies of the legends, to remember their selfless spirits and their commitment to human rights, particularly for the poor. Their organisation is allowing the destruction of what that golden generation had bequeathed to us.

The lack of shame is tragic. DM

Photo: Minister Bathabile Dlamini and Minister Blade Nzimande addressed the media briefing of the Social Protection, Community and Human Development Cluster held at Imbizo Media Centre in Cape Town. 16/02/2016, Elmond Jiyane, GCIS


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