Social development minister Bathabile Dlamini made it to a crucial meeting of Parliament's public accounts committee after keeping everyone guessing until the last minute — and then she was 20 minutes late.
Dlamini did not smile as she sat down with officials in the standing committee for public accounts (Scopa) meeting, where MPs were already waiting for her.
Committee chairperson Themba Godi, African People's Convention MP, started the meeting by asking Dlamini to explain how her department had gotten to the point where there were doubts about whether welfare grants would be paid out on April 1. The contract of Cash Paymaster Services (CPS) was declared invalid by the Constitutional Court, and it expires at the end of the month.
Dlamini started by explaining that, when she does not attend a meeting like the Scopa meeting to which she was summoned a week ago, it is because she had "other responsibilities".
Besides, she said it was the jobs of accounting officers to give a report to Scopa.
South Africa Social Security Agency CEO Thokozani Magwaza was, however, booked off sick last week and the director-general Zane Dangor resigned soon after. He, too, has been booked off on sick leave for two weeks.
"I think the issue of grants, I agree, was very important, and I don't want South Africans to think I am arrogant because people have been coming to meetings I did not attend, but never asked why I didn't attend," she said.
Dlamini then launched into a long explanation of how it came that CPS was the only service provider that could ensure grants are paid again on April 1.
Her attendance at the committee came despite a plea by President Jacob Zuma on Monday night that ministers and spokespeople should stop answering questions on the Sassa matter because it only served to fuel speculation and confusion.
Dlamini on Monday also said she would meet ANC officials about the matter, but it could not be confirmed whether the meeting took place. She did, however, receive a hero's welcome at a Sassa "stakeholders" meeting on Monday afternoon, attended by grant recipients.
The Department of Social Development is expected to meet with Treasury later on Tuesday to discuss the CPS contract, but Treasury has so far declined to comment.