Social Justice

Sassa: SA in deep moral crisis of double standards


South Africa has just come through a week in which the reign of double standards was glaringly exposed and showed it up as facing a moral crisis.

From the Presidency, down to organised private enterprise and shareholders in big companies, none is in a position to pick up the first stone to throw.

At the end of a week of high drama in the Constitutional Court (CC) surrounding the payment of social grants to some 17 million of the most vulnerable citizens in the country, President Jacob Zuma on Saturday welcomed the CC’s ruling in the grant case.

He, almost cynically, also positioned himself to rake in the political kudus come 1 April when – thanks to the court’s intervention, - by announcing he will lead an Inter-Ministerial Committee (IMC) on social security, which is focusing on grant reforms.

He went on to say: "I want to assure all grant beneficiaries that government will implement the directive of the CC and uphold the constitutional rights of the poor and vulnerable in our society."   

The previous day, when answering questions in Parliament he, however, refused to entertain any steps against the Minister of Social Development, Bathabile Dlamini –  clearly the main person responsible for allowing the crisis to develop.

The CC in its judgement, concluded about Minister Dlamini and the state agency she oversees (SASSA), that the people of South Africa (and the Court) could not trust them to do their job to ensure the delivery of social grants as required by the Constitution.

President Zuma appear far from being consistent in his trust in the CC, also in this case, when he on Friday despite the judgement said it was “a funny democracy” that want to punish someone “based on suspicion.”

ANC inconsistencies

This selective morality is, however, not restricted to the president or just the SASSA-issue.

The party that Mr Zuma leads, the African National Congress (ANC), also originally defended Minister Dlamini, after the CC ruling, in a statement agreed with the court and said “the regrettable events over the past few weeks were unnecessary and should have never happened,” and called for “harsh consequence management” to deter a repeat of this matter.

This does not only expose an inconsistency within the ANC, and between itself and its leader on this matter, but also between one case and another. Also on Friday the High Court in Pretoria found that the appointment of general Berning Ntlemeza as head of the Hawks by Police Minister Nathi Nhleko was unlawful, invalid and in breach of two previous court judgement.

Friday the court said about the Minister’s appointment of general Ntlemeza that he “… simply brushed aside a considered opinion of a superior court. The question here is not one of discretion but whether the person who has been described by such judicial pronouncement can be appointed …"

In this case, the ANC’s reaction to the news that Nhleko would be  back anyway at work yesterday (Monday) was that “courts also make pronouncements that can be challenged.”

However, central to the latest judgement on the position of general Ntlemeza, is that the previous judgements on him, one dating back to 2009, was never appealed.

The private sector

However, to think that this practice of selective standards is restricted to only the government, would be a mistake. That it is found also in the private sector, where profit and the so-called free market system runs supreme, became patently clear in the SASSA drama.

To this date there has not been peep out of the organised trade and industry sector about the way that American listed company Net1 and its South African subsidiary,  (CPS) has conducted themselves in the whole drama.

And, it took a looming public relations disaster for South African investment firm Allan Grey, with its something like 16% stake in Net1, to raise its voice and make moves towards a possible shareholders meeting.

That, even though, as far back as 2014 the CC ruled the court ruled that the social grant contract between Sassa and CPS was invalid and in the same year the National Credit Regulator claimed that CPS had breached the National Credit Act by sharing beneficiary information with Moneyline, among other complaints.

They could also not have been unaware of the fact that the Us Department of Justice and the US markets regulator, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), opened bribery investigations into Net 1’s Sassa contract in November 2012.

The SEC later closed its investigation with the disclaimer that this “must in no way be construed that the party has been exonerated.”

Clearly the firm took a decision to invest purely by weighing up profit potential against risk. It is only now that the risk factor has picked up considerably that it has found it voice on ethical matters.

Like the story from the New Testament alluded to at the start of this article, there are few, if any, role players in the South African social-, political- and economic household who can bend to pick up the first stone.

by Piet Coetzer

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