The Black Sash Trust and the Centre for Applied Legal Studies welcome the finding of the Johannesburg Magistrates Court that former Minister Bathabile Dlamini is guilty of perjury. The perjury relates to Ms Dlamini’s testimony before an inquiry established by the Constitutional Court into her role in the social grants crisis several years ago. The decision demonstrates that public officials have a duty to act ethically and must be held to account when they do not.
On 9 March 2022, the Johannesburg Magistrates Court found former Minister of Social Development Bathabile Dlamini guilty of perjury following her testimony under oath before a section 38 inquiry established by the Constitutional Court. The purpose of the inquiry was to determine the then-Minister’s role in the social grants crisis in 2017 when millions of beneficiaries were put at risk with no plan in place to continue paying grants when an invalid contract with Cash Paymaster Services came to an end.
The Centre for Applied Legal Studies (CALS) represented the Black Sash Trust at the inquiry and presented evidence that the Minister had failed in her duties and had purposefully misled the Court to avoid being held to account for these failures. The inquiry was chaired by Judge Bernard Ngoepe, whose report describes Ms Dlamini as an evasive witness who failed to disclose information to the Court for fear of being held liable in her personal capacity.
The Constitutional Court later handed down judgment finding the Minister’s conduct had been “reckless and grossly negligent” and ordering her to pay a portion of the costs of litigation brought by the Black Sash Trust in order to protect the social grants system. The Court further ordered Judge Ngoepe’s report be forwarded to the National Director of Public Prosecutions to consider whether Ms Dlamini lied under oath and should be prosecuted for perjury.
In August 2021, CALS and the Black Sash Trust were informed that the Director of Public Prosecutions in the Gauteng Local Division in Johannesburg had decided to prosecute Ms Dlamini for perjury and that her first court appearance would take place in the Johannesburg Regional Court within one month. We have today learned that Ms Dlamini has been found guilty by Magistrate Betty Khumalo. Ms Khumalo found that the former Minister had “knowingly and intentionally disposed of false evidence” and dismissed arguments by Ms Dlamini’s legal team that the section 38 inquiry did not constitute formal judicial proceedings.
“This decision highlights the duty placed on our public officials to act ethically and in the public interest at all times,” says Ariella Scher, attorney at CALS. “Even those occupying our highest offices must be held to account for their actions. Perjury is not a victimless crime, especially for sitting cabinet ministers. In this case, Ms Dlamini’s dishonesty contributed to an ongoing crisis in the social grants system that threatened the millions of beneficiaries who rely on it every month.”
“It’s high time that the South African Judiciary starts to deliver on the promise that no one is above the law,” says Rachel Bukasa, executive director of the Black Sash Trust. “Cases such as this will go a long way in ensuring that people start to believe that we are all equal before the law.”
CALS and the Black Sash Trust continue to advocate for basic income support for those aged 18 to 59.
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