So, after many weeks and an even longer final week of panic regarding the payment of social grants, things reached a conclusion (for now), with the Constitutional Court on Friday ruling that grants must continue to be paid out by extending the contract between the South African Social Security Agency (Sassa) and Cash Paymaster Services (CPS) by one year.
Rights group Black Sash brought an urgent application asking the court to play an oversight role in what they referred to as a payment crisis.
Credit must be given to the Constitutional Court for taking the high road and going back on its earlier 2012 ruling (which declared that very contract between Sassa and CPS unconstitutional and thus invalid) by deciding to give relief to the more than 10 million beneficiaries who were no longer certain they would continue to receive their grants come the first of April.
However, it must be pointed out that the court should never have been put in this sort of position, in the proverbial corner, forced to make such a decision. This is the highest court in South Africa, it’s word should be final. There is a reason the Constitutional Court is the court of last instance.
Minister of Social Development Bathabile Dlamini has made a fool of this court by ignoring its earlier judgment and then making it difficult to find a last-minute solution to the crisis. What’s the point of having a court which makes final decisions, but can be held at ransom by certain individuals?
For this reason, Dlamini must be held accountable, or at the very least punished in some way for disrespecting the Constitutional Court.
Earlier in the week, President Jacob Zuma very rightly told Parliament (while defending the minister) that the outrage regarding payment of the grants was premature and that Dlamini’s performance could be evaluated only after 1 April when social grants are next due to be paid.
That’s fine, but the question from opposition benches should not have been whether Dlamini would be punished for non-payments of grants (because as we now know, this will happen), the opposition parties should have asked if Dlamini would face disciplinary processes if the Constitutional Court were to be forced to change its earlier ‘final’ decision that the contract between Sassa and CPS was invalid.
Whether or not the president fires Dlamini (which seems very unlikely given the lengths he’s gone to defend her) is a story for another day, but to simply let her get away with her actions is deplorable and confirms views that government, and in particular Zuma himself, has no respect for the Constitutional Court.
The president needs to send a strong message, not just to the ministers who serve under him, but to the country at large, that the total disregard for the highest court in the land we’ve witnessed cannot and will not be tolerated.
So maybe a redeployment, or demotion of sorts, or perhaps one of those infamous Zuma Cabinet reshuffles are due at this point?
Either way the Minister of Social Development, her ‘smallanyana skeletons’ and her disrespectful spokeswoman Lumka Olifant can no longer be trusted with this critical portfolio.
Flo Letoaba is an Eyewitness News anchor based in Johannesburg, columnist, law graduate and 702 Talk Host. Follow her on Twitter: @floletoaba