Former social development minister Bathabile Dlamini File photo: African News Agency (ANA)
The Black Sash Trust has hailed the Constitutional Court judgment ordering then social development minister Bathabile Dlamini to, in her personal capacity, pay 20% of the legal costs for litigation resulting from last year’s social grants crisis.

The apex court unanimously called on the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) to consider whether Dlamini had lied under oath and should be prosecuted for perjury.

“This is a victory for the South African public. We welcome the judgment and the impact it will have for grant beneficiaries going forward,” said Black Sash Trust director Lynette Maart.

The amount Dlamini is to pay is still be being determined, according to social justice and human rights groups.

In March last year, the South African Social Security Agency (Sassa) approached the court to request an extension on the Cash Paymaster Services (CPS), which distributed social welfare grants to more than nine million beneficiaries countrywide.

This followed a Concourt finding three years prior, declaring the contract for the payment of social grants between Sassa and CPS invalid, after Sassa failed to ensure that the empowerment credentials claimed by CPS were legit.

CPS’s contract came to an end in March 2017, but there was no plan in place to continue paying social grants. Sassa approached the court again for another extension.

In June last year, the court ordered Dlamini be joined to the matter in her personal capacity and explain why she should not be held liable for the costs of the litigation resulting from her negligence.

Social Development Minister Susan Shabangu and Sassa’s chief executive are to pay the other 80% of costs of Black Sash Trust and Freedom Under Law.

In its scathing judgment, the Constitutional Court found no merit in Dlamini’s argument that a personal costs order against her would offend the separation of powers.

“When courts make costs orders they do not make judgments on the political accountability of public officials. They do so only in relation to how the rights of people are affected by the conduct of a public official who is not open, transparent and accountable and how that impacts on the responsibility to a court by those involved in the litigation. 

"As explained in Black Sash 2, the common-law rules for holding public officials personally responsible for costs are now buttressed by the Constitution,” the court found.

Her spokesperson Mandla Tshabalala said they were still studying the judgment and would only issue a statement afterwards.

The Centre for Applied Legal Studies, which hauled Sassa to court on behalf of the Black Sash Trust, said: “The judgment sets an important precedent for holding public officials accountable for their reckless and negligent actions in executing their duties.’’