SASSA Card. PHOTO: SASSA website

Johannesburg - Tension between former South Africa Social Security Agency (Sassa) chief executive officer (CEO) Thokozani Magwaza and Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini were laid bare on Friday, as Magwaza told his side of the story regarding the grants debacle.

Magwaza told the Constitutional Court-mandated inquiry that “all hell broke loose” at a Sassa executive meeting held in February at Emperors Palace where Dlamini unexpectedly showed up.

He said Dlamini told him at the heated meeting that he should concern himself with daily operations at Sassa and not the contentious work streams, which reported directly to her.

Magwaza said as he was driving to the meeting, he received a call from his personal assistant who told him that Dlamini was at the meeting and that there were state security people confiscating cellphones.

“I got there and proceeded to chair the meeting as I usually did as the CEO. I then asked the minister what she had to tell us as we did not know she would be attending the meeting...she said she was not gonna say anything until Miss [Zodwa] Mvulane made her presentation.”

Mvulane is Sassa’s project manager responsible for the grants payment transition. Magwaza testified that she ignored her executives and instead worked side-by-side with the workstreams, and reported everything to Dlamini.

“All hell broke loose after her presentation. The minister started saying so many things with me being pivotal in her utterances...including that I did not like the workstreams and didn’t give them a chance to do their job,” Magwaza said.

“She also pointed at the chief information officer and told him to do his job and leave the workstreams alone. She went further telling me I should not concern myself with the work stream but concentrate on the daily Sassa operations.”

Dlamini told him the workstreams were appointed by her, therefore reported to her and he “cannot do anything about it”.

Magwaza said Dlamini then stood up and left the room. Magwaza said he went after her and begged her to stay so they can resolve the issues at hand.

“I said to her - minister, please let’s sit and talk about this... you cannot come to an executive committee meeting, say what you said and not give us a chance to reply. Her body guards then formed a human chain around her as if I was attacking her.”

He told the inquiry that he told Dlamini that what she did was unfair as she vilified and belittled him in front of Sassa staff.

Next to testify at the inquiry is former social development director general and Dlamini’s adviser, Zane Dangor.

The Constitutional Court-mandated inquiry into Dlamini’s role in the social grants debacle and whether she should be held liable for legal costs incurred is on its fifth day. It is chaired by retired judge Barnard Ngoepe. 

On Friday afternoon, Ngoepe postponed the inquiry into South Africa's social grants after indicating that he was not feeling well. 

“I am not feeling well and can’t go beyond this point, I am sorry. I really tried keeping myself together but am not well,” he said.

Earlier, Magwaza told the inquiry about the work streams and how they created an impossible working environment at Sassa. 

The work streams were advisory groups appointed by Dlamini in 2015 to help Sassa migrate to paying out social grants by March 2017 deadline after the Constitutional Court ruling. 

The contentious workstreams reported directly to Dlamini and cost taxpayers a reported R47 million. Magwaza was sidelined by Dlamini and Mvulane, who ignored her executives and instead worked side by side with the work streams, and reported everything to Dlamini, Magwaza said.

The workstreams contracts were terminated last year after Treasury informed the department that the appointments were illegal as Sassa did not seek deviation from tender in time from Treasury as required, rendering the project irregular.

The  job of the workstreams was seen as parallel to that of Sassa officials, pitting Magwaza and the department’s former director general Zane Dangor against Dlamini.

In her testimony, Dlamini blamed Magwaza for the grants crisis. She said problems at Sassa started after his appointment as CEO in November 2016. It got worse when Dlamini filed an affidavit in the Constitutional Court in which she accused Dlamini of lying to the court and tried putting the blame on Sassa executives led by Magwaza.

The grants crisis saw rights group Black Sash taking the department to the Constitutional Court to ensure that over 17 million beneficiaries continued to receive grants, after the court ruled in 2014 that the CPS contract to dispense grants was invalid.

In March 2017, the Constitutional Court ordered that CPS continue to pay grants for a further twelve months, after it was found that Sassa was unable to meet the deadline and take over grant payments.

The inquiry will resume on February 2.

African News Agency/ANA