SUNDAY TIMES - Defiant Dlamini might have to pay up to R5m in legal fees from own pocket
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Sunday Times News By THABO MOKONE and ATHANDIWE SABA, 2017-03-19 00:05:00.0

Defiant Dlamini might have to pay up to R5m in legal fees from own pocket

Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini. File photo
Image: Alaister Russell/Sunday Times

Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini was yesterday summoned to an urgent meeting with the ANC's integrity commission to explain her role in the social grants debacle that put the livelihoods of millions of South Africans at risk.

Dlamini was ordered to meet with members of the commission, who include former Robben Islander Andrew Mlangeni and former National Assembly speaker Frene Ginwala, in what is believed to be the first step towards Luthuli House taking action against her.

The meeting came as the embattled minister's woes piled up yesterday, with revelations that she could have to pay as much as R5-million from her own pocket if she fails to give the Constitutional Court satisfactory reasons why she should not be held personally liable for the costs of the case brought by NGOs Black Sash and Freedom Under Law.

Ginwala and Mlangeni confirmed to the Sunday Times that the meeting with Dlamini took place at Liliesleaf farm in Rivonia, Johannesburg, yesterday afternoon.

"We have just met with Minister Dlamini, but I can't tell you anything. We never take our discussion to the media. We will meet soon to finalise our report and send it to Luthuli House," said Mlangeni.

The commission, which was set up in 2013 as an attempt to encourage ANC leaders found guilty of wrongdoing to step down from their positions, does not have powers to fire anyone.

However, its reports may influence the party's second-highest decision-making body, the national executive committee.

The NEC is scheduled to meet next weekend, when Dlamini's fate is expected to dominate the agenda.

ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe declined to comment on Dlamini's meeting with the integrity commission, saying that doing so would "compromise" the process.

A couple of hours before being summoned to Liliesleaf, Dlamini remained defiant as she told the Sunday Times that she was not the only one to blame and that the Constitutional Court judgment should not make her opponents believe that they can make her "feel small".

"I'm not going to allow anyone to make me feel small or make me feel embarrassed," she said during an interview at her home in Pretoria yesterday morning.

Watch Bathabile Dlamini say she will go if Zuma tells her to:

She insisted on blaming her officials for the social grants crisis.

The court on Friday ruled that the minister was ultimately responsible for the mess that had resulted in the Department of Social Development and the South African Social Security Agency being unable to guarantee that social grants would be paid out on April 1, the day after Sassa's contract with Cash Paymaster Services was set to have expired.

According to legal experts, the minister stands to pay anything between R2-million and R5-million from her own pocket if she is unable to give satisfactory reasons to the court as to why she should not.

Asked if she was worried about the prospects of having to pay the costs, Dlamini said: "I can't pre-empt whatever decision the court will take on whether I should pay. I will file a response but I can't talk about it now."

She said that instead of justifying why she should not pay, she would tell the court about the steps she had taken to avert the crisis.

"My response is not to defend myself, mine is to put all I have done ... I have to specify what my role has been throughout that process," she said.

According to retired Constitutional Court Justice Johann Kriegler, the minister's bill could be a "seven-digit figure, especially with all the parties involved. It won't be a small figure at all."

The Black Sash, which brought the application, and Freedom Under Law were represented by two senior counsel, who could charge upwards of R30,000 a day, and four other lawyers who would charge about half of that.

"But the amounts they charge on the day are only a portion of the bill for drafting the papers and consultation. The minister is looking at footing the bill for five senior counsel and 14 attorneys," said a senior counsel.

"You must keep in mind that the Sassa matter was brought on an urgent basis because people's livelihoods were in jeopardy," said the advocate.

During the interview, Dlamini said she accepted responsibility for the crisis "to a certain extent", but was not entirely to blame for the grants fiasco "as some people have been fanning" the fire. She blamed everyone from the media to opposition parties and executive officers at the helm of Sassa.

She was particularly angry at current Sassa CEO Thokozani Magwaza, who she said frustrated her efforts to prevent the grants crisis.

She said she would not voluntarily step down from her post and that it was up to President Jacob Zuma to remove her from his cabinet.

If my organisation feels I have not done my work, I must give way, I will do exactly that

"I was appointed by the president, if the ANC says thank you, I won't fight about that, because even going to parliament was a deployment, and therefore I'm not going to fight and harp, saying I don't want to go or I'm treated unfairly. That's not my call, my call was to do my work.

"If my organisation feels I have not done my work, I must give way, I will do exactly that," she said.

Dlamini then fired a broadside at Magwaza, saying he had frustrated her attempts to comply with the Constitutional Court order of 2014 - in which the contract with CPS was ruled invalid - including causing her court papers to arrive late after he refused to sign them off.

She said Magwaza only co-operated after she sought the intervention of Minister in the Presidency Jeff Radebe and State Security Minister David Mahlobo, who serve with her on the cabinet task team set up to fix the Sassa mess.

"I found that he's refusing to sign now that I wanted the whole thing to go. I ran to look for comrade Jeff and Mahlobo. They wanted to know what the problem was. He says there's no problem and he signs the document."

Asked if Magwaza deliberately sabotaged her, Dlamini said: "It's not my business to say he sabotaged me. But I have an experience of December when we were supposed to deposit a report, it's not done because he wanted to be given time. Everyone was present at a meeting and the only one who wasn't there was the CEO.

"We called him and put him on the speaker to tell him that we are late and we need to submit to court. His response was ... 'give me time' and he told us where to get off and that he was the CEO.

"In January he does not get back to me and then submits an affidavit about the Treasury being a respondent and we had agreed you can't make the Treasury and the minister of finance respondents in this thing."

Dlamini, who is a powerful figure in the ANC as president of its women's league, claimed it was Magwaza who insisted on continuing with the illegal contract with CPS.

Magwaza declined to comment on the minister's allegation: "I am not prepared to be arguing with my boss but she knows the truth. It is unfortunate that she can go on record saying something like that."

mokonet@sundaytimes.co.za, sabaa@sundaytimes.co.za