Bathabile Dlamini's pension cash held to recoup VIP perk

28 February 2021 - 00:00 By Nonkululeko Njilo and Amanda Khoza
Former minister Bathabile Dlamini's pension was blocked by Sassa. File photo.
Former minister Bathabile Dlamini's pension was blocked by Sassa. File photo.
Image: Eugene Coetzee/The Herald

The South African Social Security Agency (Sassa) blocked former social development minister Bathabile Dlamini's pension payout to recoup the R2m the agency paid for VIP protection of her children back in 2015.

Sassa has taken both Dlamini and her former spokesperson, Lumka Oliphant, to court as it seeks to recover a total of R3.5m it paid for security of their families.

The agency wants Oliphant to pay back R1.4m used to protect her and her children.

Dlamini, Oliphant and former Sassa CEO Virginia Petersen were served with summonses in February 2019. This week Dlamini, who is president of the ANC Women's League, insisted she did not know the reason why her pension was being withheld by the state after she resigned from parliament when she didn't make it into President Cyril Ramaphosa's cabinet.

Sassa claims it provided security to Dlamini and Oliphant after they said their lives and those of their children were under threat.

The auditor-general classified the expenditure as fruitless and wasteful.

Dlamini blamed her political opponents for the state's refusal to pay out her pension. This week the women's league national executive committee expressed its support for their president.

Sassa CEO Busisiwe Memela denied that its court action was politically motivated.

"It's not politically motivated at all," she said. "Sassa is performing its administrative duty to collect from all its debtors. Sassa is claiming repayment for the expenses it incurred in providing physical security services to the children of the former minister, and against the chief director, communications, in the department of social development for payment of physical security services for her and their children.

"The claim is also against the former accounting officer of Sassa for approving the payment. They are all jointly and severally liable. In terms of the Public Finance Management Act and its regulations, this money should be recovered.

"Recovery of the money is an administrative process that is implemented by Sassa against all its debtors in the event they do not make any arrangements to pay despite having been requested to do so. Sassa is currently engaging with representatives of all concerned to make arrangements or decide on how to resolve the debt challenge on its books," said Memela.

Oliphant and Petersen have filed responding affidavits in Sassa's suits.

Recovery of the money is an administrative process that is implemented by Sassa against all its debtors in the event they do not make any arrangements to pay despite having been requested to do so.

In court papers, Oliphant disputes that she is liable for the security bill. She says there was a threat made on her life, which she duly reported to her superiors. They approached the South African Police Service (SAPS) to conduct a threat analysis and it was found that their lives were in danger.

"It is insensitive of the applicant to turn around at this late stage and suggest that we were expected to continue to render our services as if business was usual in circumstances where criminal syndicates were threatening to kill us," she said.

"If indeed the appointment of the fourth respondent [the security company] was unlawful, that would mean that the fourth respondent was not legally entitled to receive and retain all the payments that it received. Why then is the applicant not asking the fourth respondent to pay back the money?"

Contacted for comment, Oliphant referred the Sunday Times to her lawyer, Jabu Mabuza, of Thando Mabuza Attorneys.

Mabuza said: "Part of the work [Oliphant] conducted for the department was to go to Brazil and repatriate the children born from South African women who were arrested for drug trafficking and other drug-related crimes. At the same time Sassa had the grant payment dispute, which was also widely publicised.

"There was also a campaign against the advertising of alcohol, which the department was working on. My client, being the chief director of communications, had to make public statements and interviews on behalf of the department.

"My client then began to receive threats to her and the threats came as a result of the work she was doing for the department. The threats escalated to her two minor children, who were 11 and eight years at the time.

"She then reported the matter to her line manager who in turn addressed a letter to the former national [police] commissioner, Riah Phiyega. An independent threat analysis was conducted and SAPS confirmed that my client's life and her children's lives were in danger.

"For my client, that is where the matter ends. She does not sit in any procurement adjudication committee and as a result she has no knowledge of how the procurement of the security services unfolded. She played no part in procurement process," said Mabuza.

Dlamini's lawyer Tim Sukazi said the former minister intends filing her answering affidavit on Tuesday.

Petersen declined to comment.

Editor's note: This story has been amended to remove an inaccurate statement that Sassa claimed in court papers it had installed security upgrades at the homes of former social development minister Bathabile Dlamini and her former spokesman Lumka Oliphant. While Sassa is seeking to reclaim money spent on security for their families, it did not install security at their homes. We apologise for the error.

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