Bathabile Dlamini departs

Andrew Donaldson writes on the former minister's letter of resignation



SINCE she has taken the trouble to write it, I thought I should read Bathabile Dlamini’s letter of resignation as an ANC Member of Parliament. 

It was not a pleasant undertaking and I can’t help but feel a sense of loss at her departure and share in her disappointment that, for reasons perhaps beyond her control, she was unable to fulfil her duties and responsibilities as a holder of public office. 

I do not wish to revisit in great detail the challenges she faced as social development minister. Suffice it to say Dlamini did make it abundantly clear to those who rely on these meagre disbursements for their survival that social grants were never to be taken for granted.

Whether by design or not, she had introduced a potentially powerful weapon to the ruling party’s campaign arsenal. It is one thing to blithely declare on the stump that, should the DA come to power, grants would be scrapped in the headlong rush back to apartheid. 

But it takes a special skill to drag the nation’s gogos to the brink of such a catastrophe to drive the point home. 

Reading between the lines of her letter, one gets the impression that Dlamini is deeply wounded that there should now be such indifference about this accomplishment. 

While its importance was warmly appreciated by Jacob Zuma, this, sadly, is not the case with his successor, Cyril Ramaphosa.

As readers are no doubt aware, it has long been policy to exercise patience and leniency with those who fall short in attaining what could be described as a narrow, Western or colonial interpretation of success. 

In doing away with an elitist, or merit-based paradigm, a more inclusive model has been adopted: government of the people, by the worst of the people, for the people, shall not perish from the Earth, and so on. 

Such accommodation — if at first they fail, let them fail, fail and fail some more — is, of course, the way of ubuntu as it came to be defined during the Zuma years: we embrace the ineptitude in others, for we are ourselves inept.

If, according to Shakespeare, mercy is a gift that falls as the gentle rain, then here was something akin to a tsunami. But, like mercy, this is twice blest. As the Bard himself almost said, this ubuntu blesseth him that taketh and then blesseth him again when he taketh some more. 

The blessething may soon be history. Certainly the 3.2% decline in GDP for the first three months of the year, the largest quarterly drop in a decade, is but one indication of the sopping mess on Ramaphosa’s plate. The residual drag of the Zupta project is one of enduring and gargantuan toxicity — like Chernobyl, only on steroids — and tackling it will be a difficult, demanding and potentially dangerous undertaking. 

But is the departure of Dlamini and others the start, a sign that Squirrel is finally getting rid of the rubbishes he inherited? 

Perhaps not, and it’s more a case of rats deserting the sinking ship. 

Only a dozen members from last year’s cabinet survived the Ramaphosa shake-up. All the former cabinet ministers, ten of them, are now gone. Some commentators say there could be other resignations, and that former deputy ministers may quit ahead of the state of the nation address on Thursday.

Those that didn’t crack the nod have done the sums. Relegation to the back benches of the National Assembly comes with a massive pay cut. The annual salary of a minister is more than R2.4-million, and a deputy minister almost R2-million. Ordinary MPs earn considerably less, about R1.1-million a year. 

Enter then the sobering reality of what the economist Daniel Silke has labelled “the mechanics of the pension benefits from parliament”.

According to Silke, the parliamentary rulebook makes provision for former cabinet ministers to claim a cabinet minister’s pension — provided they resign from parliament before a cut-off date. As he told the Citizen: “There’s no political motivation behind [the resignations] except certainly in the case of Bathabile Dlamini, she didn’t leave quietly.”

The commentator Melanie Verwoerd, however, disagrees that it’s about the money, and that former ministers’ pension benefits will be reduced if they remain on as MPs. Hers is perhaps a lone voice in this regard.

She told Cape Talk’s John Maytham that age could be a factor — as in the case, for example, of 65-year-old Jeff Radebe, who has served a “very long time”. 

And so he has. Since 1994, he has been public works/public enterprises minister, transport minister, justice and constitutional development minister, minister in the presidency and finally energy minister. In another line of work, Radebe would be off on retirement anyhow.

Verwoerd said the loss of status, perks and influence that came with a cabinet position would have also prompted resignations as the return to the back benches would be a difficult adjustment. 

“I think very few people’s egos can manage that,” she said. “When the egos kick in it is not such an easy thing to do. It would be very much a demotion and a step-down and they think, ‘Been there, done that.’”

Or, more realistically, “Loitered there, not done much.” 

There is no denying, however, that the resignations make a mockery of that old bollocks about being a loyal servant of the party and humbly serving the revolution wherever deployed. 

Last month, for example, the then-minister in the presidency, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, was asked about speculation ahead of Squirrel’s cabinet reshuffle, and that, in order to appease her ex-husband’s faction, she may be made deputy president.

She told journalists: “I’ve always said, if I’m asked to sweep the floor, I’ll sweep it very clean. Whatever I’m asked to do, I will do.”

Piety itself, and what have you, but seeing as Proxy-Zuma is now the cooperative governance minister, there’s a broom presumably standing idle somewhere in Luthuli House, a situation which has prompted some chatter that Bathabile Dlamini may want to pick it up, seeing as she’s got some time on her hands.

That, of course, is unlikely. Unless it’s to fly about the place when the night is dark and the moon is behind the clouds. 

Dlamini may also want to polish her writing skills. As mentioned, her letter made for difficult reading. It was far too long, buggering about for almost 3 000 words in a terribly persecuted manner. 

Certainly, it’s rambling form brought into question her fierce assertions that she doesn’t touch alcohol at all, and one wonders if she bothered to give it a quick once-over for spelling errors and syntactical mayhem in the sober light of the morning before popping it into the mailbox.

As the author JP Donlevy advises in his The Unexpurgated Code: A Complete Manual of Survival & Manners: “Following the exercise of expressing yourself on paper to another there can always come the time when the words so said can be unpleasantly held against you. Therefore be careful putting your libellous thoughts of another into print unless you say you heartily believe them to be untrue.”

But there it is, in the public domain. And it was a struggle, ultimately, to make any sense of it — other than that Dlamini is not holding back in blaming everyone else for her problems. 

This, arguably, is the letter’s true value: that it showcases a staggering imperceptiveness. This is a common condition with many politicians, that they simply do not know how crap they are, but its virulence is particularly evident here.

Interestingly, it did also appear that Dlamini is threatening to turn impimpi on colleagues whose wives had “seemingly dubious” dealings with Cash Paymaster Services during the social grants debacle. The ANC knew these individuals, she said, “but because they are respected by the organisation nothing is being said to them”.

Failing to report corruption is a criminal offence and Bridget Masango, the shadow social development minister, has warned Dlamini that should she not do so, the DA will be laying charges against her. I’ve no doubt they will be laid but, pardon the cynicism, our breath remains unbated. 

There are those who insist that, never mind, what matters here is that Dlamini is gone, good riddance to bad rubbish and all that. Nature, however, abhors a vacuum and, inevitably, as one undesirable trundles off into the distance another steps up the plate.

Hello, then Carl Niehaus. 

Recent reports suggest the MK veterans’ spokesman has attached himself in a most unseemly manner to the nethers of ANC secretary general Ace Magashule. Nothing will dislodge this lying liar from this position, and we can expect much mischief in the days ahead from the poet-warrior who rises, not as a phoenix, as some have suggested, but the gorge itself.

But that is a story for another day.

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