In her home town there is only ad­mi­ra­tion for Dlamini. No one doubts they will still re­ceive their much-needed grants

CityPress - - News - PADDY HARPER AND ANDISIWE MAKINANA news@city­press.co.za

So­cial De­vel­op­ment Min­is­ter Batha­bile Dlamini was feel­ing the heat long be­fore Par­lia­ment’s pub­lic ac­counts MPs started grilling her on Tues­day morn­ing. Dlamini had been run­ning about 20 min­utes late for her much-an­tic­i­pated meet­ing with Scopa, where she was to ac­count for the grants cri­sis.

Wear­ing a blue flo­ral dress, she briskly walked through the cor­ri­dors of the Old As­sem­bly build­ing, rush­ing in to the venue on the fourth floor of the old wing, with a pro­tec­tor just a few steps be­hind her.

She greeted this City Press jour­nal­ist, who was on the way to the same meet­ing, and to­gether we waited for what felt like for­ever for the lift to take us up.

In the lift, Dlamini con­tin­u­ously fanned her face with her hands and re­peat­edly stated, rather ran­domly, that she needed tis­sues. She also needed wa­ter and her hand­bag.

As we reached the fourth floor, she even­tu­ally di­rected the pro­tec­tor to bring her th­ese items.

Out­side the meet­ing venue, there waited about eight to 10 so­cial de­vel­op­ment of­fi­cials for her ar­rival.

In­side, the com­mit­tee was packed with MPs, jour­nal­ists and civil so­ci­ety mem­bers. Black Sash mem­bers qui­etly and pa­tiently waited for Dlamini.

“Nime­leni? [What are you wait­ing for?],” she asked her de­part­men­tal and Sassa staff, as she stormed past. The chief fi­nan­cial of­fi­cer whis­pered some­thing in her ear…

The com­mit­tee meet­ing was the lat­est at­tempt to ex­tract from Dlamini a lit­tle more in­for­ma­tion than pro­vided by her stan­dard as­sur­ance, that the so­cial grants would be paid on April 1.

In the meet­ing, she warned against those say­ing that the gov­ern­ment would not pay grants after March 31. This, she said, was akin to “re­mov­ing the gov­ern­ment in the eyes of the peo­ple”.

Dlamini has had South Africa on ten­ter­hooks for some time. De­spite her as­sur­ances, she is yet to sign a deal for the grants to be paid, and must still con­vince the Con­sti­tu­tional Court to ac­cept what is cur­rently an il­le­gal deal.

But de­spite her hav­ing frus­trated MPs, the me­dia and her own gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials with her lack of de­tails, she still seems a hero in her home town, Mat­shen­sikazi.

Isaac Mdlet­she was un­per­turbed by the pour­ing rain as he marched up the tarred road to where it ends, out­side the em­bat­tled Dlamini’s fam­ily home at Mat­shen­sikazi vil­lage, on Thurs­day af­ter­noon, to col­lect his cat­tle from the hill where they were graz­ing.

Mdlet­she (67), a re­tired welder who, like his wife, is de­pen­dent on a R1 500-a-month state old age grant for his sur­vival, seems equally un­ruf­fled by the prospect that he and his wife might not re­ceive their grants, cour­tesy of the pay­ment cri­sis caused by Mat­shen­zikazi’s most fa­mous res­i­dent, come April 1. “I’m sure we will still get it,” says Mdlet­she. “I’m sure gov­ern­ment will step in and make sure we are paid.”

Mdlet­she has adult chil­dren who are un­em­ployed and also de­pend on the grant money, which he rou­tinely col­lects at the Sassa of­fice in Nkandla town, about 20km away.

“This is just a small mis­take that has hap­pened. She is good at what she does. She should keep her job after this prob­lem is fixed,” com­mented Mdlet­she.

Point­ing to the Dlamini home­stead – a neatly fenced small­hold­ing, com­plete with a well-tended maize patch and a herd of healthy-look­ing cat­tle, where the min­is­ter lived be­fore mov­ing to Pi­eter­mar­itzburg’s Im­bali town­ship, Mdlet­she de­scribes her as a “girl who loved school”.

“She was a very good child who loved her books,” re­calls Mdlet­she with a smile. “I know her since she moved here when she was a child. Since she took this po­si­tion she has helped us a lot. She even built this road,” he adds.

Other Mat­shen­sikazi res­i­dents were ei­ther equally sup­port­ive of Dlamini or sim­ply pleaded ig­no­rance of the cur­rent grants pay­ment cri­sis.

A teacher at the Mat­shen­sikazi Pri­mary School, where Dlamini com­pleted her pri­mary school ed­u­ca­tion, is an­gered by the pres­ence of City Press in the area.

“So you’ve come to get her fired,” he says, be­fore his ru­ral sense of hos­pi­tal­ity takes over and he of­fers us di­rec­tions to the Dlamini home­stead. “Yes, she did school here and we are proud of her.”

After com­plet­ing her school­ing at Mat­shen­sikazi, Dlamini moved to Im­bali town­ship, Pi­eter­mar­itzburg. Here she at­tended Msinga High School, where she be­came the leader of the fe­male stu­dents’ board­ing house.

Dlamini was among those who were forced to leave the school in 1982 – her ma­tric year – after they had been at­tacked by vig­i­lantes brought in by the prin­ci­pal to break a stu­dent boy­cott over poor teach­ing and bad liv­ing con­di­tions.

Mzwakhe Sithebe, a for­mer Dundee mayor and ANC MPL and now a civic ac­tivist, was also forced to leave Msinga High after he was in­jured in that at­tack.

“Com­rade Ba’tha played a very in­stru­men­tal role in or­gan­is­ing and mo­bil­is­ing the fe­male stu­dent body, un­til we were at­tacked by vig­i­lantes. She was the kind of per­son who would take no non­sense,” Sithebe said.

“She was able to or­gan­ise, de­spite the fear of be­ing at­tacked, when most of the fe­male stu­dents were afraid and sub­mis­sive.”

S’phelele Shongwe, now a nurse at Msinga’s Church of Scot­land Hos­pi­tal, was a mem­ber of Msinga High’s choir, along with Dlamini, whom she de­scribed as “hav­ing a beau­ti­ful voice”.

“We sang to­gether and we were in the Stu­dent Chris­tian Move­ment at school.”

Dlamini was in­flu­enced po­lit­i­cally by Mid­lands ANC fire­brand Harry Gwala from the time she had be­come in­volved in the Im­bali-based Ind­langa­mandla Youth Or­gan­i­sa­tion.

She then rose through the ranks of the ANC Women’s League after be­ing de­ployed as part of the team which re­launched the body in 1991.

In 1998 she was elected as sec­re­tary gen­eral, a post she held for a decade, be­fore be­com­ing the league’s pres­i­dent in 2015.

De­ployed to the Na­tional As­sem­bly in 1994, Dlamini served on the corrections and so­cial wel­fare port­fo­lio com­mit­tees, but was found guilty of de­fraud­ing Par­lia­ment’s travel scheme of R254 000, fined R120 000 and slapped with a five-year sus­pended sen­tence.

Her ban­ish­ment to the po­lit­i­cal wilder­ness did not last long, and by May 2009 she was back as deputy so­cial de­vel­op­ment min­is­ter, ap­pointed by Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma, whose lean years co­in­cided with Dlamini’s.

In 2010, Zuma ap­pointed her as so­cial de­vel­op­ment min­is­ter, a po­si­tion she has held since.

Dlamini has openly pro­fessed sup­port for Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma to be­come the next ANC pres­i­dent.

A for­mer ANC KwaZulu-Na­tal provin­cial leader, who asked not to be named, says it was her un­stint­ing sup­port for Zuma, cou­pled with the sup­port she had built up in the Women’s League, which kept her in the po­lit­i­cal game.

Noz­i­bele Mfunda, now a teacher from East Lon­don, had shared a room with Dlamini at the Univer­sity of Zu­l­u­land where she stud­ied so­cial work at the time, for two years. Mfunda says Dlamini, who was a year ahead of her, helped shape her po­lit­i­cal con­scious­ness.

“That woman groomed me,’’ says Mfunda. “I was from a ru­ral area and I had noth­ing. When her par­ents brought her food from Im­bali, she shared every­thing with me.

“I would wake up and find her study­ing at 2am. That woman still got an honours with all the pol­i­tics…”

Ma­funda is out­raged by claims that Dlamini is a drunk­ard.

“I hear all this talk about her be­ing a drunk. That woman never took liquor for rea­sons that I know. She hates liquor,” Ma­funda says.

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