We have come a long way since the days of Riani de Wet, the first member of the executive in the new South Africa to be fired for “corruption” and mismanagement of her portfolio.
It was August 1994 in Sun City when De Wet, then MEC for public media, splashed a “modest” R10 000 together with friends at a music concert by Englishman Joe Cocker.
Then North West Premier Popo Molefe was not impressed, and in October of 1995 he fired De Wet for mishandling negotiations for the retirement packages of ex-Bophuthatswana Broadcasting Corporation staff.
Those who worked in Molefe’s office claim that De Wet was fired for “corruption” as a result of the rock party. Many would swear that such courageous leadership decisions so early after the birth of democratic South Africa placed the country on the correct path.
Let me tell you more about De Wet.
Mark Gevisser writes in his book, Portraits of Power: Profiles in a Changing South Africa, that on a flight on a private jet to Bloemfontein and Kimberley, De Wet told the team on board that when all work was done they were going to have “a fat jol on the way back” to Mmabatho, referring to “the drinks cabinet stashed under one of the seats in the jet”.
That was a day in the life of De Wet, the then 27-year-old working class girl from Klerksdorp, whose position in the government executive was actually “her first real job”.
Which got me thinking: if we were to audit those elected into political office at national, provincial and municipal spheres in the last 23 years, how many do you think had never held a day job before their first occupation was to manage millions or billions of taxpayers money and dish it out in the form of tenders?
So, I started thinking about De Wet sitting in the packed Constitutional Court gallery and witnessing the learned judges tear into Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini for her “incompetency” in managing Sassa’s social grants crisis.
The court reserved judgment but it goes without saying, at least from the line of questions that were thrown at Dlamini’s lawyer, that what is coming Dlamini’s way is far worse than what De Wet could have imagined.
Dlamini’s lawyer, advocate Andrew Breitenbach, was helpless in the face of direct questions from the bench. He admitted it too.
There was no ANC caucus to raise frivolous points of order to shield the minister from harsh criticism as happened during the Sassa debate in Parliament the day before on Tuesday in Cape Town.
Some of the green blouses that cheered and clapped for Dlamini in Parliament had descended to Braamfontein on the same mission, but, they could do nothing to help the embattled minister.
Equality before the law prevailed swiftly, and this time it was not the media or the opposition parties asking difficult questions, but the country’s top judges – duly appointed by the ANC-led government and not white monopoly capital.
Never have we imagined that one day the apex court on the land may consider finding a minister to be incompetent – let alone that it was some 12 months since a head of state was found to have breached his oath of office.
Of course, the assumption was always that the ANC of Nelson Mandela and Oliver Tambo would never give us incompetent people who breached their oath of office.
However, one critical reason makes it almost certain that President Jacob Zuma – yep, the one who breached his oath of office – would never fire Dlamini.
Among the key reasons why Dlamini had to be elected president of the ANC Women’s League in August last year was precisely because of her government role as social development minister.
The ANC needed to create a strong link between the work that her department did at the coalface – social grants, food parcels etc – and the party.
Of course, this was meant to ensure the party’s electoral survival by maintaining among its traditional voter base a practical illustration that it always delivered.
This makes Dlamini one of the strategic pieces in Zuma’s chessboard as he writes his legacy as head of the ANC.
What will your next move be, Mr President?