Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini. File photo: David Ritchie/Independent Media
Johannesburg – The Constitutional Court on Thursday ordered an investigation into whether Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini is liable for the SA Social Security Agency (Sassa) debacle.

Justice Johan Froneman indicated that there has to be an investigation to test the veracity of allegations that Dlamini was to blame for the Sassa mess that put millions of beneficiaries at risk of not receiving their grants in April this year.

“The Minister is joined as a party to the proceedings in her personal capacity. The parties must within 14 days from the date of this judgement report to this court whether they have agreed to a process in terms of Section 15 of the Superior Courts Act of 2013 in order to determine the issues relating to the Minister’s role and responsibility in the establishment and functioning of work streams referred to in the affidavits by the Minister, Mr Magwaza and Mr Dangor,” said Froneman.

“Failing the agreement the Court will issue directions determining the process.”

The costly parallel work streams were implemented to guide Sassa through the crisis.

Sassa CEO Thokozani Magwaza and former director general of the department, Zane Dangor filed affidavits claiming that Dlamini by-passed top officials through parallel decisions and communication processes. Magwaza was at loggerheads with Dlamini, blaming her for the crisis.

Dlamini argued in her affidavits that there was no wrongdoing on her part, said Froneman.

“The minister is rather coy about her personal involvement in the process. She refers to the Sassa executive committee minutes of up to April 2016 to indicate what process was being made. he states that during April 2016, in preparation for the deadline, she met with Sassa officials and government printing works regarding the printing of beneficiary cards. Notwithstanding this however, it was cleasr to Sassa officials that based on the progress at that stage, Sassa would not be able to meet April 1 deadline.”

Dlamini was ordered to file papers by March 31, and explain why she should not be joined to the case in her personal capacity, and why she should not be liable for legal costs for the case.

The Sassa case was brought to court by rights group Black Sash.

In 2014, Constitutional Court ruled that the multi-billion rand Cash Paymaster Services (CPS) contract was illegal. The court suspended the order in 2014 until March this year, with a view that a new contractor would be found to distribute grants.

However, in March, and in the absence of a new service provider, CPS had a constitutional duty to continue to pay out some 17 million welfare grants every month until the function could be taken over by another entity.

Rights groups took the issue to the highest court after it emerged that the the Sassa was not ready to take over payments, as per an earlier undertaking to the court, when CPS’s contract was due to expire at the end of that month.