There may be hope af­ter all

Most Sassa em­ploy­ees want to do the right thing

Financial Mail - - BOARDROOM TAILS BY ANN CROTTY - @an­ncrotty

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

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