Democratic SA’s journey has for almost two dozen years been a roller coaster ride.
Never, however, have the spirits around the nation’s braai fires slumped as low as they are now. Over the past year or so, it seems that South Africans have hit the nadir of disillusionment, frustration and anger.
This week it was the SA Social Security Agency (Sassa) that took us to a new low.
Of course, it should not be necessary for the Constitutional Court to rule on what is blindingly obvious to everyone except President Jacob Zuma. Bathabile Dlamini’s performance as social development minister has been one of “absolute incompetence”, as Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng phrased it, for a very long time.
It was the useless Dlamini who was being judicially lashed. But it is really the president, in abstentia, that the court is addressing.
Advocate Geoff Budlender‚ representing Black Sash that brought the application, cut to the nub: “The painful truth is the executive failed to meet obligations. And the painful truth is that Parliament has failed to exercise oversight.”
Perhaps appropriately for a man who likes to prance around in a leopard skin and designer takkies, Zuma operates somewhat like a feudal king. He has surrounded himself with robber barons that, in exchange for their fealty, have licence to plunder to their own account.
Such a monarch had great power, but also operated under practical constraints. In exchange for their loyalty, the one intervention readily tolerated from the king would have been to settle territorial disputes as to who could loot where.
The plight of the peasantry would have been largely immune to any intervention, regal or judicial. To punish a pillaging lord for trampling excessively on the common man would have been simply unthinkable.
To do so would have achieved nothing more than to encourage the barons to set aside their internecine squabbles and unite in order to install a more pliable king. So ideally, Zuma would not want to have to discipline ministers who behave badly.
Zuma has always known that Dlamini is a thief and a liar. In the 2006 Travelgate scandal she pleaded guilty to defrauding the government of a quarter of a million rand, for which she got a fine and a five-year suspended jail sentence.
But Dlamini is a useful thief and liar. After Zuma became president, Dlamini, who hails from his home province and is fiercely loyal – critical qualities in a robber baroness – was rehabilitated and appointed to head the Social Development ministry. And as president of the ANC Women’s League she has been entrusted with the job of promoting the campaign of Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, former wife of the president, to be the next president of SA.
The antics of the feudal aristocracy and their sovereign, of course, were not subject to judicial review. If, when the Constitutional Court delivers its judgment, it makes a finding that is unequivocally damning of Dlamini – for example, a punitive award of costs against her in her personal capacity – Zuma will be in trouble.
He will have to ditch her, otherwise risk further disquiet in a parliamentary ANC that is at last showing signs of shedding its instinctual deference towards the president.