“There is no crisis,” President Jacob Zuma keeps saying.
More than R10-billion is paid out in social welfare grants every month. For most beneficiaries those payments are the difference between basic sustenance and hunger.
Yet, with just two weeks to go until government’s existing contract with Cash Paymaster Services (CPS) expires, the welfare of 17-million South Africans is being risked by a government so cavalier it does not deign to respond to the situation as a crisis.
Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini’s lawyer admitted to the Constitutional Court this week that the minister was “remiss” in fulfilling her responsibilities.
Yet the president told the National Assembly on Thursday that he can’t be expected to act against Dlamini just yet. “Why punish someone before anything happens? This is another kind of democracy that if you expect someone is going to make a mistake or is going to fail, that person must be punished before it happens. It’s a funny democracy,” Zuma said.
It is the Bill of Rights underpinning our democracy that dictates the state must progressively realise the socioeconomic rights of citizens, including the right to social security. Social grants are one such effort towards realising those rights. It is an effort towards a more just and equitable society, which is the foundation of a democratic South Africa.
How did we get here, prone to the confluence of individual incompetence and systemic arrogance?
It is a basic competency of a public official, which we hasten to remind Dlamini she is, to ensure the agency she is responsible for is equipped to serve its primary functions.
The South African Social Security Agency Act of 2004 says the South African Social Security Agency (Sassa) must “ensure the provision of comprehensive social security services against vulnerability and poverty within the constitutional legislative framework”.
Surely it is a crisis when an organisation cannot perform the function for which it was created?
And yet: “There is no crisis,” Dlamini intoned in Parliament this week. The real tragedy is not that we are beholden to public officials so obsessed with their own political survival that they see nothing beyond themselves. The real tragedy here is that social grants, which are meant to advance the most vulnerable in our society, are being used like a toy in the hands of the most powerful.
Chief Justice Mogeong Mogeong slammed the ineptitude of Dlamini, her department and Sassa this week.
The unravelling of the state was not contained there. The parliamentary ad hoc committee set up to probe the fitness of the SABC board has recommended that Communications Minister Faith Muthambi be dismissed.
This week, she failed to be in Parliament for the second time in two months. She was out accompanying Zuma on a trip to Kwazulu-Natal.
As for the president himself, he received a dressing down from senior party officials for his endorsement of Andile Lungisa as regional leader in Port Elizabeth. (The ANC’s constitution prohibits him‚ as a provincial leader‚ from doing so.) ANC insiders said party officials forced Zuma to change his position, berating him during the meeting.
The unravelling is slow, but it is telling.
In the relationship of Serge Belamant and Cash Paymaster Services with Sassa, we see once more how state institutions are being used by individuals, families and big business for their own profit.
There is a refreshing honesty in Belamant’s statements outside the court on Wednesday. “We’re not a government: we are a company. We work for profit,” he said.
We wish government would work as government ought to work.