Former Minister of Social Development Bathabile Dlamini in…

Moments after Bathabile Dlamini’s perjury case began on Wednesday morning, the state requested a postponement, saying it had not yet prepared its witnesses for questioning. Alone in the dock at the Johannesburg Magistrates’ Court, former social development minister Dlamini watched her irate defense lawyer, Tshepiso Phahlane, vent her frustration at the NPA for not being ready.

“Obviously one would have expected, when they said they were ready for trial, to know what witnesses they would call. But today they are asking you (the magistrate) to grant them an indulgence so that they can decide whether they want to call the witness. This is unacceptable…you know, the state is used to doing whatever it wants,” Phahlane said.

He then suggested to magistrate Betty Khumalo that the court be adjourned for a few hours so that the prosecution could prepare its witness.

Prosecutor Jacob Serepo said he wanted to call two witnesses at trial. One ]was in KwaZulu-Natal and arrangements had to be made to bring this person to Johannesburg. The other was in court, but the NPA hadn’t had a chance to prep the witness.

Bathabile Dlamini appears in the dock for perjury at the Johannesburg Magistrates’ Court on November 24, 2021. (Photo: Dan Ingham)

Phahlane also said he did not receive a list of witnesses the state planned to call.

Earlier, Dlamini pleaded not guilty to the perjury charge relating to testimony she gave during a Constitutional Court inquiry into her role in the South African Social Security Agency grant crisis in 2017.

A few supporters, dressed in ANC Women’s League badges, were in the gallery, while others waited outside the court building. It is the first time that a court in Johannesburg has seen a minister tried for perjury.

The Constitutional Court inquiry, chaired by Judge Bernard Ngoepe, was set up to look into allegations that Dlamini undermined Sassa’s work by setting up workflows that would report directly to her. Some Sassa employees told the inquiry that it was in preparation to move the social grant payment system in-house, after the illegal contract with Cash Paymaster Services expired in March 2017.

Ngoepe found Dlamini’s responses to be far from adequate. In her report, the judge criticized her for being evasive, inconsistent and having a habit of answering a question with a question.

The state indictment focuses on what she said under oath at the inquest, where she claimed she had no influence on workflows at Sassa.

“While in truth and in fact, the defendant well knew that it was not the truth, but that she had in fact ordered that the workflows report directly to her, and that in fact said workflows reports to her as instructed and/or she actually attended one or more meetings in connection with the operations of said workflows, after which she was briefed and/or briefed on the work and/or progress of said workflows,” the billing sheet reads.

dlamini court perjury
As she left the court, Dlamini addressed a small crowd that had gathered in support. She avoided the case, saying only that she was concerned about the delay. (Photo: Dan Ingham)

As she left the court, Dlamini addressed the small crowd that had gathered in support. She avoided the case, saying only that she was concerned about the delay.

“They need to know that justice delayed is justice denied. If they delay us, they ruin our energy, our children and our organization,” she told the crowd at isiZulu.

His ally, Carl Niehaus, suspended member of the ANC, appointed the judiciary and the leadership of the party.

“Our leaders are being persecuted on false charges…it is a tragedy that we had to come to court to support comrade Bathabile…that we had to go to Mangaung to support comrade Ace Magashule, and on Monday I had to be in the Estcourt District Court due to the ongoing medical hearing for President Zuma,” he told the crowd.

He called on President Cyril Ramaphosa to step down, adding that 38 years ago to the day he was sentenced to 15 years for treason. “I made all these sacrifices to see our beloved movement destroyed.”

The case was adjourned to Thursday. DM

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Joel C. Hicks