Pearl Bhengu has been the name on everyone's lips since she was appointed interim CEO at the South Africa Social Security Agency (Sassa) by Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini.
It came just one day after Thokozani Magwaza accepted an undisclosed "exit package" from the state agency. The department issued a statement, saying he had resigned and that it was an amicable split. However, Magwaza has spoken out and said his contract was terminated.
When Bhengu was introduced to staff on Wednesday by the minister, she said an interim CEO was needed to "stabilize the agency and to ensure that it focuses on its constitutional mandate of administering and paying of social grants in terms of the Sassa Act".
So far, this is what we know about the mysterious new Sassa CEO.
1. Bhengu and Sassa go way back
The department said Bhengu had been serving as Sassa's regional manager in KwaZulu-Natal since 2012. Although her experience cannot be disputed, DA spokesperson on social development, Bridget Masango, criticised Dlamini's choice, saying she would have expected a senior Sassa executive who had been involved in the takeover of social grants payments from Cash Paymaster Services. Prior to her appointment at Sassa's regional offices, Bhengu worked as KZN regional director for First National Bank's public-sector division for four years, according to Business Day. She was once the chief financial officer at the Ladysmith municipality between 2006 and 2008. Between 2008 and 2011, she was treasurer of the women's league.
2. She started a company with Bathabile Dlamini's 21-year-old daughter
According to The Mail & Guardian, Dlamini's daughter, Skhumbuzo Mazibuko, and Bhengu are directors of a company which was registered in July 2015. According to Dlamini's spokesperson, Lumka Oliphant, Umnotho Wabafazi Biz has never been operational. Oliphant also said the company was started by a group of woman to buy shares, in the hopes of entering the maritime industry. She said all this had been declared. Questions are being asked about a conflict of interest.
3. At some point, her life was under threat
The Sowetan published an article in April on how R1.4 million was being spent on security for Bhengu and manager Darius Nysschens, when she was regional director at eThekwini Municipality. When asked about the high expenditure for the pair in Parliament, Dlamini said they had received death threats. These were believed to have come from staff members who were facing disciplinary action for their involvement in a case of fraud and those defrauding the grants system.
4. She might be Dlamini's BFF
Bhengu has been under public scrutiny for what seems to be a close relationship with Dlamini. DA spokeswoman on social development Bridget Masango told Business Day that as far as she understood Bhengu was the minister's "blue-eyed girl". More seriously, she also allegedly collaborated with the minister in using Sassa funds for non-Sassa events in Nkandla, KwaZulu-Natal. Sassa insiders describe the close relationship between the two as problematic, as it raises questions about Bhengu's independence.
5. She is a bright spark
Bhengu holds a Bachelor of Commerce from Fort Hare University and has a master's in public administration from the University of KwaZulu-Natal. She has certificates from the Wits Business School and a 1989 diploma from the Institute of Bankers of SA. In her CV, she says she was responsible for developing a service-delivery strategy for Sassa in KwaZulu-Natal.Suggest a correction