03/03/2017 11:32 SAST | Updated 06/03/2017 16:01 SAST

Bathabile Dlamini: Travelgate, 'Smallanyana Skeletons' -- And Now Social Grants

Don't forget, she pleaded guilty to fraud charges after cheating Parliament out of more than R250,000.


Bathabile Dlamini is one very busy politician these days.

As president of the African National Congress Women's League (ANCWL), she has been central in positioning the organisation as the fulcrum around which the leadership aspirations of Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma are being constructed.

She even flew to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to attend Dlamini-Zuma's farewell at the African Union.

Dlamini has also been putting in a lot of effort in rebranding the ANCWL as an aggressive political protagonist, unflinching in its support of President Jacob Zuma and actively and partisanly engaging on issues like the apartheid-era Bankorp loan to Absa, supporting Mzwanele Manyi's Progressive Professionals' Forum in its offensive against white monopoly capital, and attacking national Treasury and its political head for being "obstructionist" and "anti-transformational".

The ANCWL -– in cahoots with the ANC Youth League –- has become Zuma's praetorian guard and hatchet-women (and men), relentlessly attacking political opponents. Just last week she refused to applaud Minister of Finance Pravin Gordhan and literally sat on her hands in the National Assembly when MP's gave him a standing ovation.

There's just one problem: her actual job is minister of social development, not just moonlighting as minister.

Dlamini is in charge of one of the biggest stuff-ups in recent memory: the disbursements of social welfare grants. It's a stuff-up which could literally take food off millions of poor people's tables, and could also cost the already bleeding governing party even more support.

In 2014 the Constitutional Court ruled the awarding of a contract to Cash Paymaster Services was irregular and that a new service provider needed to be found. Three years hence, weeks before the contract comes to an end and disbursements stop, and Dlamini and her department have still not complied with the court's ruling.

Dlamini has absolutely, resolutely and steadfastly refused to take responsibility for the mess, skipping two parliamentary committee meetings that looked into the issue and forcing MPs to summons her to appear in front of them.

She became minister of social development after a dramatic Cabinet reshuffle in October 2010 when Zuma sacked seven ministers and shifted another two.

She shot to infamy during the "Travelgate" scandal in the early 2000s when a number of ANC MPs were prosecuted for fraud after they abused Parliament's travel system, claiming undue benefits and simply, flat-out lying about them.

Dlamini was one of the biggest offenders, pleading guilty of fraud after claiming benefits amounting to R254,000. She was sentenced to a fine or imprisonment, and was not returned to Parliament in 2004. Zuma however decided to appoint her as deputy minister of social development in 2009.

She has a penchant for expensive hotels -– according to a disclosure made by her department in 2012 government spent more than R750,000 for 166 nights' hotel accommodation over two years, including at the Radisson Blu in the Waterfront and the Durban Hilton.

As a political appointee and surrogate for Zuma, she seemingly understood her role extremely well, personally assisting officials from her department to distribute millions of rands worth of food parcels, blankets and other items on the eve of crucial by-elections in the contested municipality of Tlokwe in 2013.

Dlamini also delivered on of the most memorable quotes of recent times, when she defended her party against criticism. She said everyone in the ANC's leadership "has their smallanyana skeletons" and that it shouldn't come out "because all hell will break loose".

Dlamini is supposed to appear in front of Parliament's standing committee over the social grants tender next week.