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Bathabile Dlamini’s calamitous skeletons are finally bursting out of the closet


Zukiswa Pikoli is Daily Maverick's Managing Editor for Gauteng news and Maverick Citizen where she was previously a journalist and founding member of the civil society focused platform. Prior to this she worked in civil society as a communications and advocacy officer and has also worked in the publishing industry as an online editor.

Why does South Africa have such a bad consequence management system? In other more functional democracies, ministers who don’t perform or are found to be remiss in their duties fall on their swords and leave office. But in South Africa, people are rewarded with ambassadorships and ministerial pensions and benefits until they die.

The ANC Women’s League (ANCWL), formerly the Bantu Women’s League, was founded by Charlotte Makgomo Maxeke, who was a giant of SA’s revolution not only for the liberation of the country but also for the emancipation of women.

Maxeke was the first black woman in South Africa to graduate with a university degree, with a BSc from Wilberforce University in Ohio in 1903, as well as the first black African woman to graduate from an American university.

She was a robust political activist and dedicated her life to the service of people. Throughout its history, the organisation counts notable women leaders like Albertina Sisulu, Ruth Mompati, Gertrude Shope and Lilian Ngoyi. Its recent history of leaders, however, leaves much to be desired, not unlike its mother body, the ANC.

Enter its current president, one Bathabile Dlamini, who is also the embattled former minister of Social Development and Minister of Women in the Presidency, who was famously quoted as saying everyone in the ruling party has “smallanyana skeletons”. Now it seems her smallanyana skeletons are bursting out, as on 9 March she was found guilty of lying under oath by magistrate Betty Khumalo. Her response to the conviction? A nonchalant “We wait for the sentence and then after the sentence we will know what to do.”

But let’s take a look at the real gravity of the situation. Her lying had real-life consequences for the lives of millions of vulnerable people.

In 2017, when Dlamini was minister of Social Development, her department failed to secure a new service provider to pay out people’s social grants after the invalidation of the previous service provider’s contract. The Constitutional Court then instituted a commission of inquiry against her, led by judge Bernard Ngoepe.

During the inquiry, it was Ngoepe’s finding that Dlamini’s conduct was “reckless and grossly negligent”. In the reports she was described as an “evasive” witness, answering simple questions with “I don’t know” or “I don’t remember” or simply failing to answer at all, during the commission’s proceedings.

Although she was found guilty of perjury, the charge should also include dereliction of duty and violation of people’s constitutional right to access social security, guaranteed in section 27(1), because what did her tenure as minister of Social Development actually yield, other than the mess that is our social welfare system? In other more functional democracies, ministers who don’t perform or are found to be remiss in their duties fall on their swords and leave office. But not in South Africa. Instead, people are rewarded with ambassadorships and ministerial pensions and benefits until they die.

It remains to be seen what Dlamini’s sentencing will be for this crime, because while perjury is punishable, it is up to the sentencing judge to determine what the most appropriate remedial action will be. It will also be interesting to see what sanctions she will face from the ruling party as a member of its National Executive Committee. Because inasmuch as she is now no longer a minister, the ruling party has a duty to set a standard of moral integrity.

A question that begs asking in SA, though, is why we have such a bad consequence management system, especially when our current democracy comes from the high moral pedigrees of the Maxekes and Ngoyis of this world. The praise that the courts are getting for making the only rational finding and people calling it precedent-setting that “everyone is equal before the law, even those in high office” is an indication of an abnormal society that is standing on precarious moral ground.

Dlamini represents the calibre of compromised leadership where threats to out each other are what is used to cling to positions of power and ill-gotten gains. I guess what she did not count on was the determination of civil society and the courts to hold her accountable where the government failed.

While I am not a member of the ANCWL, as a woman who was raised on the then progressive politics of the women in the ANCWL I have to state that her tainted view of the world and actions do not represent me or my aspirations, and dare I say, those of the founders of the women’s league.

In the age of smallanyana skeletons it is the poor masses that have the most to lose. I am quite sure that Dlamini will bounce back with the cat-like reflexes that have come to characterise the ruling party’s disgraced members. The masses, however, will continue to have their backs broken by a ruling party that shows no allegiance to their wellbeing. DM168

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper which is available for R25 at Pick n Pay, Exclusive Books and airport bookstores. For your nearest stockist, please click here.


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  • Robert Morgan says:

    If anyone was ripe to be the first domino to fall, it’s surely this example of everything that’s wrong with the ANC. We can only hope that she sings like the cowardly canary she’s proven to be. The abject belligerence with which she comports herself is testament to the belief that her and her cadre ilk are untouchable. Let’s prove her and the rest of her clan wrong.

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