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HomePoliticsHealthFeel sorry for the poor, not for perjurer Bathabile Dlamini

Feel sorry for the poor, not for perjurer Bathabile Dlamini

The former minister refuses to reckon with the seriousness of her conviction while the ANC lacks moral authority to act swiftly against a convict

By Eusebius McKaiser

The idea that being convicted of perjury is not a serious matter is a gigantic lie. Perjury undermines constitutionalism, and we should not normalise such criminal dishonesty.

Former social development minister Bathabile Dlamini’s conviction means she is a threat to a democratic state, and we should resist the South African “ag shame” impulse.

The ANC does not deserve our continued patience with its addiction to unethical governance.

Dlamini was key to the bungling of the administration of social grants during her tenure. The Constitutional Court wanted to develop a comprehensive factual understanding of work streams undertaken by the SA Social Security Agency (Sassa) to determine if the agency could take over the payment of social grants from Cash Paymaster Services. Dlamini lied in her testimony at the inquiry run by retired judge Bernard Ngoepe.

As magistrate Betty Kumalo concluded in the perjury case, “[Dlamini] is found to have knowingly and intentionally disposed of false evidence in substance to the effect that the work streams did not directly report to her, that she did not attend meetings of the work streams.”

Consequently, she was sentenced on Friday to a R200,000 fine or four years’ imprisonment, half of which was suspended.LISTEN | Bathabile Dlamini negotiates payment of fine for perjuryANC Women’s League president Bathabile Dlamini was on Friday sentenced to a R200,000 fine for perjury, of which half was suspended.NEWS1 day ago

The court, of course, has a duty to determine what punishment is just and fair. That requires a delicate but important balance between retribution, deterrence and taking cognisance of salient factors that constitute mitigation.

The first problem for Dlamini is that she has shown no remorse. She refuses to reckon with the seriousness of her conviction. That is one reason we should not feel sorry for her.

Truth leads to accountability. Falsehoods undermine accountability. It follows that perjurers are enemies of democracy.

She does not want to admit that committing perjury is constitutionally damaging to society. How was this person ever fit to be in government if she thinks lying under oath is no big deal?

This forces concerned parties to explain to her and her supporters what should be trite.

At the heart of good and effective governance lies a free flow of accurate information about the state.

We cannot hold government accountable if we are fed a buffet of lies about what is going on in government. Truth leads to accountability. Falsehoods undermine accountability. It follows that perjurers are enemies of democracy.

By lying to Ngoepe, Dlamini stopped society from knowing the truth about the social grant crisis. That is inimical to her oath of office, and it furthermore undermines the collective agency of citizens to make up their own minds about the state of the government.

We cannot fully enjoy our democratic rights if we are lied to by the incumbent government. Perjury is fundamentally about dishonesty, and a kind of dishonesty that is constitutionally egregious. Anyone who refuses to see these links between perjury and the undermining of both the administration of justice and the erosion of democracy itself is clearly not committed to keeping our constitutional democracy intact.

What also irks about Dlamini’s arrogance is a weird claim that she did not benefit from her perjury. This is so fuzzy that it pains me to deconstruct the daftness of the thinking.

Perjury is not a victimless offence.

When you obstruct a judicial effort to get to the bottom of the blockages in a social security system, your victims are the millions of South Africans who are dependent on the work of the social development ministry.

The key question is not whether the former minister benefited in direct material terms from intentionally lying to a former judge despite taking an oath to be truthful. The real question is whether citizens suffer when a member of the executive like herself obstructs the administration of justice by intentionally lying about what is going on or not going on in government. The answer to the latter question is obvious.

Millions of South Africans living under conditions of poverty, worsened by unemployment levels edging closer to the 50% mark (on the expanded definition), are dependent on the country’s social security system.

The social development ministry stands between complete destitution and survival for millions.

When you obstruct a judicial effort to get to the bottom of the blockages in a social security system, your victims suffer, and those victims are the millions of South Africans who are dependent on the work of the ministry.

Dlamini did not benefit from perjury, but her perjury certainly caused material harm. That is her real legal, moral and political sin.

Given her refusal to internalise these trenchant realities, we should not treat her with kid gloves. We deserve better.

Dlamini has indicated she will not step down from any ANC leadership position because there are others who have done wrong who have not stepped down. At any rate, she adds, it is up to structures of the ANC to determine whether she should step down as leader of the ANC Women’s League.

If you know you were behaving unethically or unlawfully, then you should fall on your sword as a recognition of wrongdoing

Two things struck me when I heard this. First, the ANC’s shamelessness is so ubiquitous that its leaders would rather engage in “whataboutism” than examine their individual behaviour.

If you know you were behaving unethically or unlawfully you should fall on your sword as a recognition of wrongdoing, regardless of whether others who let society down have suffered consequences for their sins.

Second, the ANC as a political organisation is so lacking in moral authority that it cannot act swiftly against a convict. This is despite the power it has to act without a legal conviction against a member it wishes to discipline politically. The ANC’s organisational culture casually accepts unethical leaders, and even leaders with a record of trampling on the rule of law.

The ANC has a long history filled with many highlights. The party today does not deserve our continued patience with its addiction to unethical and unresponsive governance. Dlamini is not an ANC outlier. Dlamini is exemplary of what the ANC is. It is time we compelled the ANC to take a break from government.

–Sunday Times

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