Johannesburg - Seventeen million South Africans may be guaranteed their grant payments on April 1, but now attention is on the minister blamed for the crisis, and whether her president and party will allow her to keep her job.
On Friday after Justice Johan Froneman read out the judgment that slammed Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini’s lack of leadership in the “Sassagate” scandal, the ANC was calling for heads to roll.
ANC spokesperson Zizi Kodwa said the government must take tough action against those responsible for creating the mess.
It was unacceptable that this matter should have been allowed to happen and to threaten the lives of millions of people who depend on social grants, he said.
He called for action to be taken - to prevent an incident like this happening again.
ANC Chief Whip Jackson Mthembu said ANC members in Parliament were not happy with how the matter was handled. He said they would ensure that those responsible were held accountable.
ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe on Friday sidestepped questions on the fate of the social development minister but said: “If I commented on processes, then I would prejudice myself.”
The standing committee on public accounts (Scopa) also welcomed the Constitutional Court judgment. Scopa chairperson Themba Godi said they were looking forward to hearing from Dlamini on why she should not be held personally liable for the debacle.
For the first time, on Friday, Dlamini apologised for the grants crisis. She apologised for the anxiety that was caused. But in a statement she did call the Constitutional Court judgment, that was so damning of her performance, a victory for all social grant beneficiaries.
Justice Froneman in the judgment had said that one of the signature achievements of South Africa’s constitutional democracy was the establishment of an inclusive and effective programme of social assistance.
“This judgment is, however, not an occasion to celebrate this achievement. To the contrary, it is necessitated by the extraordinary conduct of the minister of social development and the SA Social Security Agency (Sassa) that has placed that achievement in jeopardy. How did this come about?” Froneman asked.
The Constitutional Court ordered that the contract between Cash Paymaster Services (CPS) and Sassa be extended for 12 months. This until another entity other than CPS was able to do so, the judgment read.
Dlamini and Sassa were ordered to file affidavits every three months to the court, setting out how they plan to ensure the payment of social grants after the expiry of the 12-month period.
CPS will have to approach Treasury for any increase in the price of their contract.
The judgment also said that Dlamini had until March 31 to submit an affidavit to argue why she shouldn’t pay the costs of the court application.
Mark Barnes, chief executive of the SA Post Office, said his organisation would be ready to take over the distribution of grants.
“This is not mailing parcels, it is not the same,” he said.
Sitting outside court after the judgment was read, Black Sash member and grant recipient Paulina Masigo was relieved. “I am happy, because if I had borrowed money how was I supposed to pay it back if I wasn’t getting any in April.”
But it is not just the minister who is to blame for the crisis, said constitutional law expert Professor Shadrack Gutto. “The president should do the honourable thing and fire the minister, and apologise to South Africans,” he said.
Gutto also blamed the cabinet and in particular the Minister in the Presidency Jeff Radebe for not cracking the whip and ensuring that the constitution was not undermined. “Damage has been done here, and we haven’t even measured it yet. Some people were in shock that they wouldn’t receive their grant. Who knows, some may have even committed suicide,” Gutto said.
The DA’s shadow minister for social development, Bridget Masango, said her party had written to the public protector to investigate Dlamini’s relationship with CPS.
This week in Parliament President Jacob Zuma refused to fire Dlamini and said he would wait until April 1, when grants are to be paid. Responding to calls from opposition parties to axe her, Zuma said he would not.
On Friday night, Zuma and the Presidency had yet to comment on the Constitutional Court findings.