President Jacob Zuma on Thursday denied in the National Assembly that the South African Social Security Agency (Sassa) was facing a crisis over the payment of social welfare grants.
Responding to a question from Democratic Alliance leader Mmusi Maimane regarding the expiry of the contract between Sassa and Cash Paymaster Services (CPS) in about two weeks, Zuma said it would be a “funny democracy” to axe Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini over something that had not transpired yet.
“I thought the date that you’re talking about has not arrived, the first of April. Now, this is another kind of democracy that if you suspect that somebody is going to fail or make mistake; you must punish that person before it happens,” he said.
The contract with the US-listed firm Net 1 subsidiary was declared illegal by the Constitutional Court in 2014.
Dlamini and her department have faced severe criticism from civil society organisations and opposition parties over the failure to secure a new contract to pay 17 million grants to 11 million South Africans come April 1.
Zuma told MPs the minister and Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan had been dealing with the matter as well as the courts.
“It’s a funny democracy, it’s one thing if people raise the issue, that we are likely to get into trouble because we suspect that things might not be done but to act as if the first has come [April 1] … and therefore you must take action. I’m saying it’s a funny democracy that says punish a person before they commit a mistake.
“… I thought what this country was doing has been including the courts. It is to address that issue so that we are not going to experience that kind of situation, and that’s what the courts have been doing. And I have been briefed by the ministers [about] what they have been doing,” he said.
On Wednesday, Dlamini received a hammering from the ConCourt’s 11 judges led by chief justice Mogoeng Mogoeng in the application brought by human rights advocacy group The Black Sash, which wants the court to resume its supervisory role over the payment of grants.
Mogoeng had strong words for Dlamini‚ suggesting “absolute incompetence” on her behalf over the debacle.
Despite this, Zuma referred to “hitches” in the beginning over Sassa securing of a new service provider, saying the grants agency did go on tender but couldn’t find a competent contractor.
“… And therefore there had to start afresh again. There were specific problems [and] I got a detailed briefing from social development and the Treasury. It’s not like they were sitting and doing nothing all the time … so why punish anybody before anything happens,” he said.
“It’s a funny democracy, a funny legal system that a person before committing a crime must then be judged and be punished.
“You [Maimane] are a democrat; I thought you stick to democracy and the rule of law. The rule of law does not say you punish a person because you suspect that the person is going to commit a crime. That’s not the rule of law. It’s almost like the law of the jungle.”
The ConCourt has reserved judgment over the matter.