South Africa

South Africa

SassaGate: Agency’s CEO Thokozani Magwaza faces death threats and plot to oust him

SassaGate: Agency’s CEO Thokozani Magwaza faces death threats and plot to oust him

Matters have taken a sinister turn in the slipstream of Sassa CEO Thokozani Magawaza’s cancellation on 29 June of costly R47-million workstream contracts set up by Minister of Social Development Bathabile Dlamini. Magwaza, who is likely to testify against Dlamini in a public enquiry into her role in the Sassa scandal, is being pressured to accept an “exit package”. Daily Maverick has also received reliable information that Magwaza was informed that his life is under threat. By MARIANNE THAMM

Two sources close to Thokozani Magwaza confirmed on Thursday that the Sassa CEO was being pressured by a third party (whose name is known to Daily Maverick) to accept a “lucrative exit package” to leave the agency but that negotiators were, at this point, refusing to commit this package to writing.

Daily Maverick has also learnt that Magwaza was informed that information had been obtained that his life was under threat. Questions to Magwaza, Sassa officials as well as Minister Dlamini and her spokesperson Lumka Oliphant, about the exit package, the role of the third party (whom we named in our mail) as well as the alleged death threats to Magwaza, had not been answered at the time of writing.

We also received no reply to questions as to whether Magwaza was receiving any protection in light of the threats.

A source close to Magwaza told Daily Maverick that the Sassa CEO intended to fight the move to oust him. Magwaza, who has insisted that Sassa’s future plans to distribute grants in-house must pass constitutional muster, has increasingly been viewed as an obstacle by officials close to and loyal to Dlamini.

Magwaza will, in all probability, also prove a potential threat in the forthcoming public inquiry into Dlamini’s financial culpability with regard to her role in precipitating the social grants crisis in March this year and which narrowly averted a national catastrophe. In the end the controversial and illegal contract with CPS/NET1 was extended for a year.

Dlamini filed court papers this week “conditionally agreeing” to a public inquiry, the first ever in South African democratic history. The minister, however, objected to the possibility that former Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke would be selected by the Constitutional Court to lead the probe.

Dlamini stated that her preferred candidates are Justice Yvonne Mokgoro, former judge president Bernard Ngoepe and retired chief justice Sandile Ngobo and also insisted that she start the inquiry with her own witnesses, led by her own legal team.

On 29 June, Magwaza terminated Dlamini’s pet Sassa project, the workstreams which cost the agency R47-million. The workstreams reported directly to Dlamini. Treasury wrote to Magwaza in May this year informing him that the expenditure is irregular and the procurement of the advisers was non-compliant with Treasury’s supply chain management process. Workstreams leaders were Tim Sukazi, Tankiso Parkies, Sizwe Shezi and Patrick Monyeki.

It was these workstreams, said Magwaza and former Department of Social Development DG Zane Dangor in their replying affidavits to the ConCourt, which had derailed the process of taking the grant payments in-house. The workstreams and their leaders also favoured CPS.

The recently appointed Dangor resigned in March saying the atmosphere in the department had grown “toxic”. Shortly afterwards Dangor received threatening phone calls and his home was raided by two men who also injured his son during the attack.

Dlamini, in her affidavit to the Constitutional Court with regard to her personal liability for the legal costs, had blamed Sassa officials for the crisis, telling the court she had been “unaware” of it all. Both Magwaza and Dangor accused Dlamini of lying to the court

The relationship between Dlamini and Magwaza, while he has publicly declared it “cordial”, is decidedly unhealthy. Dlamini is said to be furious that Magwaza is negotiating with the South African Post Office as a future partner along with commercial banks for the payment of the country’s social grants.

In May this year Magwaza filed a notice of withdrawal of opposition to a case brought by Corruption Watch with regards to irregular expenditure of R316-million to CPS for the re-registration of beneficiaries. Sassa’s former CEO Virginia Petersen okayed the transaction.

Sassa has yet to explain or unpack to Scopa the granular detail of the R1.1-billion in irregular expenditure by the agency. Insiders say “cutting this R1.1-billion to the bone will be mind-boggling”.

“The suspension of the workstreams has brought it all to a head. A lot of good work has been done and we are at a stage now where there could be a sharp reversal of that work. Magwaza is seen as a problem,” said a source.

There are people who “want the role of the Post Office whittled down,” said our source.

“They are trying every trick in the book. The inducement and the reported threats on his life,” said the source.

If Magwaza is forced out it is highly likely that some form of the “workstreams” will be slipped back into place at Sassa and the Post Office might find itself out in the cold.

In May Dlamini told Scopa it would take five years and cost R6-billion to take the payment of social grants in-house. With only eight months to go before the current extended contract with CPS expires it appears that Dlamini is once again determined to influence this highly lucrative tender worth over R10-billion a month and that involves the country’s most vulnerable citizens. DM

Photo: (Left) Sassa CEO Thokozani Magwaza (Photo: SIMPHIWE NKWALI / TimesLIVE) (Right) Minister Bathabile Dlamini (GCIS photo)

Additional reporting by Craig McKune.


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