There may be hope after all
Most Sassa employees want to do the right thing
It’s possible the SA Social Security Agency (Sassa) represents a microcosm of early 21st-century SA. This may seem a rather frightening thought at first but on reflection it is encouraging. There may just be enough committed people in the agency for “good to prevail” — as they say in Hollywood. Good in this instance is defined as nothing more than the efficient ejection of Net1, and a putative BEE clone of Net1, from the distribution of grants.
It may not appear an ambitious definition but in the context of an environment dominated by Bathabile Dlamini, it is a near-herculean challenge. As we get closer to the December ANC leadership contest, the social development minister’s determination to carve out a potentially lucrative role for her workstream/advisers becomes ever more fearsome.
Her latest victim is former Sassa CEO Thokozani Magwaza. I met Magwaza at a number of parliamentary briefings. At a few of them Zodwa Mvulane, the “payment transition project manager” at Sassa and a close ally of the minister, presented the Dlamini-backed transition plan to MPS.
Over the critical two or three months ahead of the March 2017 deadline, the only changes seemed to be the addition of yet more arrows to a largely incomprehensible amalgam of flow charts. Even as the deadline loomed there was no sign of urgency.
Legend has it that Magwaza and a few Sassa stalwarts, frustrated and embarrassed by association with this bizarre plan, misinformed Mvulane about the timing of a parliamentary session and quickly moved in with their own presentation. It turned out to be the only one that ever made sense. Mvulane arrived, flustered, halfway through but could do nothing to stop the process. It was a heroic but ultimately unsuccessful attempt to rescue the process.
I have also met Magwaza in the cold hours before dawn in townships across the Western Cape, as Sassa employees prepared to make their monthly payments to the elderly and vulnerable. He was a committed public servant whose decision to resign cannot have been taken easily.
But he has left behind other committed individuals who continue to try to do the right thing. It is reprehensible that this should be such a challenge but as I talk to them, I realise how difficult it is to work in an environment dominated by an oppressive force. Sometimes the support from “outside”, from NGOS, from the judiciary and from the media, seems too far from the daily slog of surviving to believe success might be an option.
I have seen enough social grant distributions in urban, rural and deep rural locations to believe most Sassa employees want to do right by their clients. Payments are made usually in silence but courteously.
Perhaps right now the brightest hope for those determined to do the right thing is the expert panel appointed by the constitutional court. I would not want to present anything that looks like one of Mvulane’s flow charts to a panel that includes Gill Marcus and Mavuso Msimang.
There is always good reason for hope in this frustrating country.
Magwaza was a committed public servant. His decision to resign cannot have been taken easily