Former Social Development spokesperson Lumka Olifant writes a heartfelt letter to her former boss Bathabile Dlamini.
Dear Bathabile Dlamini
A part of me is glad that you are not in Cabinet but a part of me is also sad. It has taken me hours of agonizing that I should pen this letter but I came to a decision that I should. I should because it is the most principled thing to do. It is the most honorable thing to do.
You did very well for the Department of Social Development. You did very well for us, women. You did very well for Sassa. I am not going to dwell on the work of Sassa but I know that you wanted to make sure that the poor of this country received their social grants in their communities, with dignity and promote economic development in the areas where they collected their grants. I still hear you say: “We Lumka, if we can bring the voting station where our people live, we can bring the banking system to where they stay!” Yours was a great foresight and we will never recover from removing you from Social Development.
You had the heart for it but you suffered greatly and this is why I am glad that you are gone! Nobody deserved that treatment. Not even the worst enemy.
I thought I should write this because I cannot be accused of dancing for my supper anymore, or buying your face and I feel if I don’t write it, I too would have failed in telling your story.
I saw an article that was headlined no one will miss you but I want to tell you that we will miss you in the future. I, for one, want to thank you for the contribution you made in my life. For exposing me and taking me by the hand. For teaching me that the poor must be treated with dignity. Thank you for the time you rushed to Cape Town because I had lost my father. Thank you for the matching underwear lessons, the right size bra, the beautiful shoes and thank you for your good heart.
I won’t dwell into much, but I will remind you of the times when the ANC as an organisation in government made bad decisions and killed people in Marikana. You were ashamed of isono esinziwe ngumbutho wakho owuthandayo kodwa wangawuhlambalaza. Instead, you sent us to criss-cross the country to find the widows and their children.
I want to remind you of the time when social workers went to Bizana and started discriminating against children, dividing families and classifying children as legitimate and illegitimate, not because they wanted to but because the policy was not conducive and you said: not in my name! Not in the name of the ANC!
I want to remind you of the time when the church in Nigeria collapsed on the people of South Africa. We were in New York! Legislation only allowed for the disaster fund to operate within our borders, therefore, there was nothing the South African government could possibly do but you said: not in my name and not in the name of the ANC! The law must do something. Again, we moved from house to house and city to city trying to find the families and integrating families. Sahlangabezana namanyundululu but you reminded us of what was before us.
I want to remind you of a time when you said the orphans of this country do not want to be separated, government should bring services to their homes and you put your signature supporting Isibindi and professionalised child and youth care work.
You delivered clean audit reports for that department for as long as you were at the helm. I was in Brazil with you when you fetched babies who were born in prison because their mothers trafficked drugs. I was there when you went inside the cells and you listened to how drugs came into this country. I was there when you asked if the mothers were languishing in jail in a foreign country, ngubani oncancisa abantwana babo eSouth Africa?
I want to remind you of a time we went to Port St Johns and you saw how and what people used their grants for and you said: not in my name and not in the name of the ANC! We must think about health shops owned by women so that the grants should be collected there and money left in communities. I want to remind you of the sleepless nights trying to get a card that will only work in those shops and leave the millions of rands in rural South Africa.
I want to remind you of the hard times when you realised that the PFMA was not conducive for the rural businesswoman and you instructed us to help women in rural areas to form cooperatives, train them and give them business by buying the SRD from them. Those were hard times.
You were a nuisance to us but the women in rural areas touched for the first time what they called “imali yamanyhani!” I still get calls from the women in Bizana. They miss your leadership. They miss your heart.
You have served MaDlamini and we know that you have served this country with diligence and you flew the ANC flag high.
You were battered! Your were bruised! You felt every pain but I have never seen you cry. You were determined to get alcohol out of our communities. You would tell me the story of how the apartheid government used alcohol to destroy black families but in turn we said you were the drunkard.
I want to remind you Malandela of the time of #FeesMustFall! You would tell me that those young women had legitimate complaints. You looked for your small contribution because you understood the muscle of paying social grants. You said the means test for grant beneficiaries when applying for NSFAS should fall so that those who passed matric as recipients should immediately get assistance. To avoid being forced to sell their bodies just because they wanted education. You sent your soldiers to go negotiate this with NSFAS.
Young women were being raped at Rhodes University. You dared to get them in one room with the powers that be and you stood for them. Not only did you end at Rhodes, you said we must move from tertiary institution to tertiary institution siyosula iinyembezi zabafundi abangamantombazana. Sikhangele intsusa nezigebenga zesisimanga!
MaDlamini, I was there and I can’t be singing with the choir that says you will not be missed. I was there when you fought for the means test of older persons to go because you heard the cries of our grannies when they said they were not getting a grant because their spouses were getting pensions from former employers. I still hear you say: “omkhulu bamosha ooGogo, abakuthengi ukudla! The means test must go!” I was there when you fought tooth and nail but this was never realised.
I was there when you poured your heart for the recognition of social workers. I was there when you spent sleepless when you were told that social work graduates were sitting at home and you moved from Public Service to Treasury. I was there when you had a social work indaba to hear first hand from the social workers.
I was there when you tabled the document on comprehensive social security at Nedlac and I still hear the hands clapping for being revolutionary.
People want us to speak in hushed tones when your name is mentioned but I can’t. History will judge me very harshly. I read your resignation letter which by the way was a conversation between you and your SG and how I wish you had bounced it off me. I understood exactly what you were saying but you could not fill in the gaps properly. The ANC is your home and you have right to tell everyone off! Nathi emakwethu sithetha sophele!
Thank you for teaching me the ways of the ANC and its policies. Thank you for fighting patriarchy in the Department of Social Development. Heyi uhluphile we Mama emsebenzini but there was method in your madness! Thank you for ukuwaxosha amadoda when they thought it was okay to come and speak with you sans the women. Today, it is them who remind us and ask us aphi amakhosikazi!
I want to remind you of the time when you came back from an IMC meeting on gender-based violence and you asked thina silelele ntoni amakhosikazi ehlukunyezwa? A Gender-Based Violence Command Centre was born. There is no other like the one at DSD. You always knew that social development was the heart of this nation.
Ndingathetha kuse Dlamini but mna ndiyazi ndiyakukweleta. Ndikukweleta nje oku kwencwadi. Ndikukweleta oku kwamagama. Oku kokuthi enkosi. Usebenzile mntakaDlamini ndiswele nje imilomo yokubulela. I know you love the ANC and it needs you right in Luthuli House. I want you to focus. Focus on fighting for the women. Focus on uniting the women of the ANC. Wenze ismanga mntakaDlamini embuthweni wakho! A woman stood for the position of Presidency! Bathi xa bethetha abayaziyo imbali yalo mbutho ibingumnqa! Uzungawakhathaleli amaxoki namatshivela, oonyuba noba ayinyubisi, namagwala, umsebenzi uwenzile. Uzuthi xa bebuza kutsho bani! Uzuthi kutsho mna ntombi ka Oliphant yase Brinton kwaLanga!