South Africa

SASSA CASE

Former social development minister Bathabile Dlamini in court for perjury trial

Former social development minister Bathabile Dlamini appeared at the Johannesburg Magistrates’ Court on 24 November 2021 for her perjury trial. (Photo:Dan Ingham)

There was to be no Stalingrad defence on the opening day of former social development minister Bathabile Dlamini’s perjury case — in fact, it was the defence pleading for the proceedings to get under way.

Moments after Bathabile Dlamini’s perjury case began on Wednesday morning, the State asked for a postponement, saying it hadn’t yet prepared its witnesses for examination. Alone in the dock, in the Johannesburg Magistrates’ Court, former social development minister Dlamini watched as her peeved defence attorney Tshepiso Phahlane vented his frustration with the NPA for not being ready.

“Obviously, one would have expected when they said they were ready for trial they would know which witnesses they would call. But today they ask you (the magistrate) to give them an indulgence so that they can decide if they want to call the witness. This is unacceptable… you know the State is used to getting its own way” said Phahlane.

He then suggested to magistrate Betty Khumalo that the court be adjourned for a couple of hours so that the prosecution could prepare its witness.

Prosecutor Jacob Serepo said he wanted to call two witnesses in the trial. One ]was in KwaZulu-Natal and arrangements had to be made to bring that person to Johannesburg. The other was in court, but the NPA hadn’t had the opportunity to prepare the witness.

dlamini court perjury
Bathabile Dlamini appears in the dock on perjury charges in the Johannesburg Magistrates’ Court on 24 November 2021. (Photo: Dan Ingham)

Phahlane also said he hadn’t received a list of witnesses the State planned to call. 

Earlier, Dlamini pleaded not guilty to the perjury charge which relates to testimony she gave at a Constitutional Court inquiry into her role in the 2017 South African Social Security Agency grants crisis.

A few supporters, wearing ANC Women’s League regalia, were in the gallery, while others waited outside the court building. This is the first time a Johannesburg courtroom has seen a minister being tried for perjury. 

The Constitutional Court inquiry, chaired by Judge Bernard Ngoepe, was set up to look into allegations that Dlamini had undermined Sassa’s work by setting up workstreams that would directly report to her. Some Sassa employees told the inquiry that this was in preparation to move the social grants payment system in-house, after the illegal contract with Cash Paymaster Services expired in March 2017.

Ngoepe found Dlamini’s answers to be far from adequate. In his report, the judge slammed her for being evasive, inconsistent and having a habit of answering a question with a question. 

The State’s charge sheet focuses on what she said under oath at the inquiry, where she claimed to have had no influence on the workstreams at Sassa. 

“Whereas in truth and in fact, the accused well knew that this was not the truth, but that she had in fact directed that the workstreams must report directly to her, and that in fact the said workstreams did report to her as directed and/or she in fact attended meeting/s in relation to operations of the said workstreams whereupon she was briefed and or advised about the work and/or progress of the said workstreams,” the charge sheet reads.

dlamini court perjury
Leaving the court, Dlamini addressed a small crowd that had gathered to support her. She steered clear of the case, saying only that she was concerned about the delay. (Photo: Dan Ingham)

Leaving the court, Dlamini addressed the small crowd that had gathered to support her. She steered clear of the case, saying only that she was concerned about the delay.

“They must know that justice delayed is justice denied. If they delay us, they are ruining our energy, our children and our organisation,” she told the crowd in isiZulu.

Her ally, suspended ANC member Carl Niehaus, slated the judiciary and the leadership of the party.

“Our leaders are being persecuted on trumped-up charges… it is a tragedy that we had to come to court to support comrade Bathabile… that we had to go to Mangaung to support comrade Ace Magashule, and on Monday I had to be in the Estcourt Magistrates’ Court because of the medical bail hearing that is ongoing for President Zuma,” he told the crowd. 

He called on President Cyril Ramaphosa to step down, adding that 38 years ago to the day, he had been sentenced to 15 years for treason. “I’ve done all of those sacrifices to see our beloved movement destroyed.”

The case was postponed to Thursday. DM

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  • Thoughts of all those times you ducked meetings where you were called to SCOPA, Parliament, Auditor General and the oversight committees to account and you sent a proxy or totally ignored the process come to mind. Karma has a way of coming to bite you and now you live with this sword hanging over your head. I hope the prosecutor does not attend attended the next court date and uses the excuse that had go for his annual medical tests and keep you another few months more in misery while your attorney benefits from your purse.

  • A truly unfortunate turn of events. A well-prepared start to the case would have been a shot in the arm of public confidence in the NPA after the many statements on its anti-corruption stance and dedication to bring to book wrongdoers who are alleged to have looted the country; and bolstered the requests the NDPP will make for further funding.