You’d be forgiven for not knowing that Bathabile Dlamini is the minister of social development. You’re more likely to know about the other hat she wears, as cheerleader-in-chief for her near-namesake, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, to become the next president of the ANC and the country.
You probably also know the ANC Women’s League president as “that woman who sways and blinks a lot while talking and regularly declares that she never drinks at all”.
But no, she actually has a day job, and the most important role she’s meant to play as minister is to ensure that the social grant system is functioning and making payments on time to the millions of people who rely on it.
If you’ve been following affairs, you’ll know the grant payment system is in its greatest-ever crisis, with the very real risk that one-third of all South Africans will soon stop receiving their much-needed grants because of a breakdown in the distribution service.
According to Wits’ economic and business school head, Jannie Rossouw, the woman has either deliberately been trying to create a crisis of national proportions or simply isn’t capable of showing the leadership to avoid it. Not even an instruction from the Constitutional Court to make alternative arrangements to ensure the grant payouts continue appears to have been enough for Dlamini to shake off the stupor.
The Concourt found in 2013 already that the company tasked with the distribution of welfare grants, CPS, had been operating using a flawed contract. Out of a sense of human decency, the court suspended its ruling to allow the SA Social Security Agency (Sassa) time to correct its flawed tender processes and find a new service provider.
Years later, and with mere weeks remaining to the deadline, there still is no new service provider. Ideally, the social development department and its subsidiary agency Sassa should get their act together and do the distribution, but perhaps that’s an inconceivable notion to Dlamini – because it comes with the risk that she may actually be required to do a day’s work.
The opposition has accused her of manufacturing the current crisis on welfare payments by simply letting the time run out to force an extension of the flawed contract with CPS.
One has to wonder what Dlamini may herself be getting out of the illegal deal with CPS to make her so apparently determined to keep them on board by playing “chicken” with the Constitutional Court, with the impending crash likely to hurt the most vulnerable people in the country.
Maybe those 17 million people she’s toying with also care as passionately as Dlamini does about South Africa getting its first female president – but they’re probably just a little more concerned about where the money’s going to come from for their first meal in April.
As Rossouw points out: “Neither the minister nor the department have shown any urgency to bring this matter to a speedy resolution. It’s also disconcerting that the minister seems to live in denial. She’s failed to admit that there’s a pending crisis of national proportions.
“The minister should take political responsibility for this crisis. If she refuses to accept responsibility, it raises the question of whether the ministry she runs is needed at all or can be merged with another ministry, as its largest single responsibility is oversight of the legal administration and payment of social grants.”
Rossouw also slated President Jacob Zuma for only appearing interested in stepping in “if he [Zuma] stands to gain personally”, otherwise it’s “too big an ask”.
It might be unfair to call Dlamini our most useless minister, because the competition for being the most useless is very stiff.
Most deputy ministers are little more than suitcase carriers (and some of our ministries have two of them), but an examination of Zuma’s bloated Cabinet makes you really question the purpose of a minister of women (sorry, Susan Shabangu, but what do you do?), small business development (truly a waste of time and money to give the loudest shouter in parliament, Lindiwe Zulu, a job), sport and recreation (I would have thought this ministry was required, but then you realise Fikile Mbalula is just a glorified sports mascot who sometimes hands out cash to footballers who are already richer than most of us – and that’s when he’s not just hanging out on Twitter).
Let’s also have an honourable mention for International Relations Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, who hadn’t heard of Brexit and congratulates international counterparts for getting jobs for which voting hasn’t even started.
But I’d still say Dlamini-Zuma gets the prize for most useless though, because her portfolio is actually important in the first place – she’s just managed to turn it into something that may as well not even exist for all the difference it makes. At least no one’s relying on Shabangu, Zulu and Mbalula to do anything that vaguely matters.