Former Minister of Women in the Presidency Bathabile Dlamini. File photo: Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters.

At the height of her political career, Bathabile Dlamini issued a warning that would resonate in the ANC: “All of us in the NEC have our smaller (nyana) skeletons, and we don’t want to take out all the skeletons because hell will break loose.” 

It seems this week the skeletons left the cupboard, at least the smaller ones for now. On Thursday, former state security minister Bongani Bongo was arrested on fraud-related charges. 

Bongo, a lawyer, claims Minister of Public Enterprises Pravin Gordhan is behind his arrest. 

Speaking to Independent Media on Thursday, Bongo said Gordhan had told him he was working with the public protector and the EFF to destroy him and he’d be dealt with. 

To some, Gordhan is considered the ring leader of President Cyril Ramaphosa’s faction. As the ruling party eats itself from within, the president of the ANC Women’s League has made a striking come back. 

Once minister of social development and minister of women and children and people with disabilities, Dlamini has been appointed the interim chairperson of the Social Housing Regulatory Authority board. 

Dlamini, according to media reports, was appointed to the position by the Minister of Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation, Lindiwe Sisulu. 

It was alleged that the contested appointment was part of Sisulu’s strategy to amass political support in the ANC in preparation of a battle to unseat David Mabuza as party and country deputy president.

In an overly clean Pretoria house, Dlamini takes a seat, and courteous youngsters offer tea. She is dressed in green, gold and black with a Winnie Mandela memorial scarf covering her head. 

“How can we be plotting to remove an elected deputy president of the ANC? People who think clearly, don’t know the ANC. We are not in an election or a conference. You don’t just add and minus ANC elected leaders. That’s not how it works,” Dlamini said. 

Dlamini said she was unbreakable. 

“I have been called many names. Even people who knew that I was taking medication laughed and called me drunk when I stuttered. Others hated me for supporting Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma in the build-up towards the ANC’s 54th national elective conference. 

“I am the leader of the Women’s League. How could I not support another woman? It is my duty to support women in this country. 

“I won’t shy away from the reality that women are overlooked in politics, in business and in everyday life. We have a responsibility to support and develop women in this country,” Dlamini said. 

Dlamini was born in Nquthu in September 1962 and was raised in Nkandla and Imbali near Pietermaritzburg. She has a BA in Social Studies obtained from the University of Zululand. 

She became involved in politics from an early age, and in the early 1980s, she became one of the founding members of the Imbali Youth Organisation, which was affiliated to the United Democratic Front. 

In 1985, she joined the South African National Students Congress as one of only a few women who participated in its politics. In 1991 she became part of interim leadership that built the ANC Women’s League structures in KwaZulu-Natal. 

Dlamini was later elected to the first regional executive committee of the ANCWL. In the early 1990s, she served as regional secretary and was elected as deputy secretary-general of the ANCWL in 1993. 

Five years later, she was elected secretary-general and served for two terms, until 2008. In 2015, Dlamini was elected as the ANCWL’s new leader. In 2018, the Constitutional Court ordered her to pay 20% of costs related to the South African Social Security Agency (Sassa) grant payment debacle. 

Reading the unanimous judgment, Justice Johan Froneman said: “Minister Bathabile is, in her personal capacity, ordered to pay 20% of the costs of Black Sash Trust and Freedom Under Law in the application, including the costs of two counsel. 

“This court directed the Registrar to forward a copy of the inquiry report to the National Director of the Public Prosecution to determine whether to prosecute the minister for perjury,” said Judge Froneman. 

The ConCourt also ordered that the minister of social development, chief executive officer of Sassa and the agency itself to pay 80% of the costs. 

Freedom Under Law and the Black Sash Trust brought the application for a costs order, blaming Dlamini for the 11th-hour applications to the country’s highest court. This week, former mayor of Durban, Zandile Gumede, swiftly slammed Dlamini’s detractors. 

“We should stop the habit of linking unrelated events. I think the deployment of Mama Bathabile was correctly carried out. “All the leaders sat down and applied their minds to it. So we must stop linking unrelated events. 

“Yes, she was a leader under former president Jacob Zuma, and that does not mean she does not respect or recognise the sitting president. 

“The people who come from the sidelines and start linking unrelated events are the wedge drivers we don’t want, the wedge drivers who suspiciously question decisions of leaders by linking unrelated events in order to divide us. 

“We must try, by all means, to be united and where we are not clear, we must seek clarification in a constructive manner. By failing to ask for clarification, we may end up leading others astray,” Gumede said. 

During her time in social development, Dlamini received five clean audits. A senior manager in the Office of the Auditor-General, Theunis Eloff, who had been responsible for auditing Social Development for the five-year period acknowledged the clean audit as an incredible accomplishment for the department.

Referring to the public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane, Dlamini said: “Women are still under attack. Mkhwebane must be protected too. She must be protected. 

“What’s sad is when people become personal and attack the persona of Mkhwebane, and we cannot hide our heads in the sand and keep quiet. 

“This has happened to former police commissioner Riah Phiyega, and we kept quiet. We will not be quiet anymore.

“I have always maintained that there are big politics behind the court cases and the threats to my family and the family of my former spokesperson (Lumka Oliphant). Some people have always wanted Sassa grants to be paid through the banks. They had to make me look bad in every way possible in order to give the banks business. I hear you saying I have returned. Where am I returning from? I’m here. 

“My new role will ensure that more people have access to affordable housing and that more families live together, in comfortable homes. It is a role I am excited about. 

“I read things about myself that I didn’t know. Some people are really creative. If I am incompetent, how did Social Development achieve five clean audits in my term? It’s fine with me. 

“They tried to break me, but I’m still here,” she said. 

Political Bureau