Thousands abandoned as Gauteng Social Development Dept implodes - GroundUp

Vulnerable people are being failed by an inefficient and corrupt department

After years of mismanagement, the Gauteng Department of Social Development is imploding. Organisations that depend on the department’s subsidies to help poor people, elderly people, people with disabilities, children and women are suffering, while audits into irregularities at the department drag on.

Led by social development MEC Mbali Hlophe, who is also the MEC for Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development, the department, which has a budget of R5.46-billion, is facing one crisis after another.

Organisations which serve more than 30,000 people and employ at least 285 people, and which have received subsidies for years, are not receiving their funding. The budget for transfers to non-profit organisations is R223-million less this year than last year.

Beside the budget cuts, there have been catastrophic delays in the adjudication of funding applications. This means some organisations have had to close or retrench staff and downscale services. Shelters for women who have survived violence have had to close their doors. Food banks that distribute parcels to thousands of people are facing challenges and at least one food bank has closed, with thousands of undistributed parcels still inside.

Meanwhile, money seems to be going in strange directions. GroundUp reported earlier this year that The Beauty Hub, which offers hair and beauty treatment training, received almost R64-million in grants from the department in the 2022/23 and 2023/24 financial years.

And even as the department is imploding and its budget is cut, it has moved to take over child adoption services from organisations that have been providing this service. Yet National Social Development Minister Lindiwe Zulu recently told News24 that the government does not have the capacity to process adoptions alone and needs to continue to support organisations; starkly contrasting with the view of the Gauteng government.

Forensic audits of several of the programmes, following an announcement by Gauteng Premier Panyaza Lesufi in February 2023 that a “full forensic audit” will be done to eradicate corruption from the department’s funding, were led by Matilda Gasela, who is herself facing corruption allegations dating back to her time at the agriculture department and also before then when she was at human settlements. An SIU investigation by the Special Investigations Unit had already recommended criminal prosecution.

One of the auditors Gasela appointed is Vernon Naidoo, a former senior partner of Grant Thornton who left that company after being accused of sexual harassment. At least 13 DSD officials have been suspended as a result of the audits, but very little is known about their suspensions or the allegations they faced.

As GroundUp reported earlier this month, Gasela has now left the department after her contract expired. She faces fresh allegations related to deviations from the budget that are under investigation, according to Gauteng Finance MEC Jacob Mamabolo.

But Lesufi has failed to make public the SIU report implicating Gasela, despite promising to do so in the Gauteng legislature on 16 April.

The department claims that the forensic audits are in the interest of transparency, yet it has refused our PAIA requests for funding records.

Last week, members of sewing co-operatives occupied the department’s boardroom, demanding payment for hundreds of school uniforms they have made and delivered to schools. The department’s response was to disown them and claim that rogue officials had appointed the co-ops.

Tens of thousands of people, some of them in desperate need, are being failed by the Gauteng Department of Social Development, and neither the Premier nor his cabinet seem to be tackling the crisis with any sense of urgency.