Social grants, obligations and betrayal by Raymond Suttner(Polity, 6 March 2017, reprinted in Daily Maverick and

What is at stake in the SASSA crisis? At one level we are dealing with an emergency, which is to ensure that grants supporting 17 million people – more than 30% of the population – in the most impoverished sections of South African society are paid out on 1 April 2017.

The level of poverty in the country, with its attendant hunger, malnutrition, lack of adequate basic needs like clean water and shelter, continues to wreak havoc with people’s health, life expectancy, performance in education and at work, where they do have work and are in school.

Social grants are post-apartheid South Africa’s way of addressing the social inequalities it inherited and which have increased since the onset of democracy.

Grants do not pretend to address broader structural questions relating to inequality and sustainable growth and development. But they are a way to rescue some people from absolute poverty. The reach of a single grant tends to go beyond the recipient and assist in the survival of a range of other dependents and households.

How the funding is disbursed has implications beyond the recipients because it is one of the biggest line items in the national budget, comprising R 170-billion in the 2017 budget. Consequently, the Treasury, in the custodial role of safeguarding the fiscus, needs to be meticulous in ensuring that these funds are properly spent.

In the context of high levels of corruption and the pillage of state funds, it is not surprising that the manner in which the contract to pay out grants was awarded to the current service provider, Cash Paymaster Services (CPS), elicited litigation from a losing bidder. As a result, the Constitutional Court declared in 2013 that the procurement process was irregular and the contract invalid.

SASSA and the Department of Social Development were given until the end of March 2017 to remedy these defects, but little seems to have been done to find an alternative service provider with the appropriate capacity, or to build up that capacity within SASSA. Minister Bathabile Dlamini and her department have been less than frank with parliament and the public and have demonstrated contempt for the obligation to be accountable. The delay in resolving this question has reached a crisis point with just weeks to go before the current contract with CPS expires.

Many believe that the crisis has been consciously manufactured by the Minister to ensure that only CPS would be in a strong enough position to continue the distribution of grants without interruption. This has also emboldened CPS, which is reported to have demanded a substantial rise in its fees for distribution, already worth R 10 billion.

In addition to the considerable amount it has gained from the contract, CPS has used its access to the database of grant recipients to market products from a range of its associated entities, performing deductions that many grantees say they have not authorised and which may well be illegal. ( Even though there are regulations forbidding such deductions, they are still made.

At the same time there have been attempts to pin the blame for failure to resolve the crisis on the Treasury, which has insisted on ensuring that regular processes are followed that are in conformity with the law and the decision of the Constitutional Court.   The Treasury is not a negotiating party, but rather charged with ensuring regularity. There have, nevertheless, been attempts to suggest that the Treasury has “passed the buck” and failed to engage in the negotiation process, of which it ought to be a part. (

This is part of a wider process, on the part of some opposed to Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan, to depict the Treasury as an obstacle to social redistribution and transformation. The real concern is not transformation, but to open access to state funds on an irregular basis and in fact deplete what can be used for transformatory purposes.

Given the times in which we live, where much related to procurement has a price above an officially acknowledged price and every decision can be influenced, suspicion has been repeatedly voiced that the Minister may be deriving some benefit from favouring CPS. It may be part of the general trend of pillage that characterises the Zuma era, whether in the presidency itself or as alleged also in water affairs, the mineral and energy departments, ESKOM, Denel and many other departments of state or State owned enterprises.

That the president has not called Minister Dlamini to order or removed her, given that this disaster was foreseen for some time, may also be attributed to her role as president of the ANC Women’s League in advancing the campaign of Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, Jacob Zuma’s preferred candidate for ANC president.

There is a strong possibility that the way the continued distribution of grants is ensured will be irregular, given that the Treasury will not bend on compliance with the ruling of the Constitutional Court. Alternatively, the Constitutional Court may, if approached, allow continuation of the CPS contract, subject to one or other condition, for a specific term and under close supervision. The latter would be the best solution perhaps, though it is hard to ensure from the judicial bench that an administrative task is performed and adequately monitored.

It appears the distribution of grants may be interrupted at the end of this month. If that happens, it will be a political crisis for the ANC because one of the achievements of post-apartheid South Africa under ANC rule has been to provide social grants. The ANC has taken great pains to make recipients believe that it is the ANC (and not the state) that is responsible for providing the grants and that without the ANC this would be endangered.

Any interruption in the process of delivery will be socially disastrous for those whose subsistence is compromised. But it will be politically disastrous for the ANC. If the ANC fails to deliver, that would be one more reason why it will lose votes in 2019.

It is astonishing that the ANC leadership, government as a whole and parliament have not acted with more vigour to stave off this crisis, purely for reasons of self-survival. Surely they can see that Bathabile Dlamini is driving them into a trap and that even if she pays a price they will all pay and possibly lose their positions as MPs and cabinet ministers if the ANC loses power.

At an ethical level, in some ways we are seeing a re-run of the complicity of the ANC as a whole in the Nkandla saga, with their failure to take responsibility in a situation that has the potential to wreak disaster on millions of people.

What, one may ask, has happened to the reports of bravery a few months ago when members of the ANC leadership called on President Zuma or the whole national leadership to resign? Where is the leadership that supposedly learnt from Nkandla that it had responsibilities under the constitution to hold the executive accountable? What has the portfolio committee for social development done over the last few years and what has parliament itself done, even now with disaster staring us in the face?

The Nkandla crisis saw MPs and ANC and SACP leaders endorse spending on the President’s private home, much of which was found by the Public Protector to have been diverted from poverty relief funding. The SASSA crisis is a more direct betrayal of the poor in that they are playing fast and loose with the very survival of millions of people – their real or metaphorical grandparents, mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters and their core constituency, the people on whose behalf the ANC has purported to act for decades.

What level of urgency do the ANC, its leaders in parliament and other structures attach to this question, when cabinet does not make time to deal with it last week, when the minister previously took a flight to Ethiopia to celebrate Dlamini-Zuma as then AU Commission Chair instead of accounting to parliamentary committees? What is parliament doing to hold her to account, to hold the government to account and ensure that the poor are not failed again?

Representation and betrayal

When all adults won the vote in 1994 there was an expectation that the notion of representation would be honoured, that MPs would see it as a trust through which they would re-present to the parliamentary chambers what their constituents wanted, or what was in their interests. In the case of the ANC particularly, this trust had been hard won over many decades where leaders had earned respect for their integrity and dedication.

Many of those in parliament and the cabinet today took their links to the masses seriously and paid a heavy price. Some were tortured and served long terms of imprisonment. Some faced great dangers in MK. They served with honour and their supporters expected that that sense of honour, that sense of integrity, that sense of trust would be upheld in parliament and in cabinet.

Many people used to refer to the freedom fighters, some of whom are on the benches of the ANC in parliament, as their sons and daughters. They were connected to the people, they took on their pain as their own and they had themselves experienced apartheid. Alas, what has happened now is a betrayal of that trust and a rupture of the bond that connected the ANC freedom fighters of the past with the people they now fail to represent.

The word betrayal is emotionally loaded, but appropriate. The organisation was trusted and loved by those who supported it. Their sense of loyalty to the organisation related to a sense of common purpose and shared values in striving for liberation from apartheid. They had no reason, then, to doubt the integrity of any person acting in the name of the ANC.

To betray a trust bestowed by those who are vulnerable is treachery. To profit from that treachery, as is likely if this deal with CPS is pushed through, is doubly treacherous.

There was a time when many of us would have given our lives for the ANC, for we believed it represented the best hope for our future. That this is not the case now is demonstrated by shameful and shameless conduct, the SASSA crisis being merely the most recent.


Raymond Suttner is a scholar and political analyst. Currently he is a Part-time Professor attached to Rhodes University and an Emeritus Professor at UNISA. He served lengthy periods in prison and house arrest for underground and public anti-apartheid activities. His prison memoir Inside Apartheid’s prison will be reissued with a new foreword covering his more recent “life outside the ANC” and will be published by Jacana Media in the first half of this year. He blogs at and his twitter handle is @raymondsuttner




Xenophobia and the question of universal rights (Polity, 27 2017, reprinted in Daily Maverick and on


One of the foundational reasons for opposing apartheid was rejection of a system that harmed other human beings. It was also an affirmation of the value of all humanity. The struggle for liberation joined with those believing in freedom worldwide and affirmed the integrity and wellbeing of all human beings, not simply South Africans.

The acts of violence against foreign migrants from Africa and Asia negate that commitment to the concept of universal rights. They repudiate the notion that all human beings are entitled to be treated with dignity and rights.

The ambivalence of government statements in the face of these attacks undermines attempts to address them as an affront to all humanity. Those are the terms in which we need to phrase our condemnation. Those who are not born South Africans are entitled to freedom, which is universal and indivisible in character. There are obviously some rights available only to citizens, but certainly the right to protection from violence is applicable to “all who live in” South Africa, to paraphrase the Freedom Charter.

President Jacob Zuma and other government members, as in previous years, wish to deny the use of the word “xenophobia”. Instead, they describe these killings, lootings and other assaults directed at foreign migrants, as criminal. To do that is to deny what is happening in our midst. There are problems with the word, “xenophobia”, over which scholars may argue. It is important, however, that we do not allow sophistry to erase what is happening.

At this moment the more serious issue is not the word we use. What we need, is to avoid language that denies the character of discriminatory conduct and acts of violence against non-South Africans. That these acts are criminal is accurate. But to leave it at that erases their specific (and obvious) feature, where there is targeting of specific people and communities of foreign origin.

Criminal actions targeting people who are from outside our borders are not unknown, as in hijacking of wealthy passengers leaving airports. But when entire communities are targeted, one is talking of a form of action that has a specific character that is not simply criminal.

To be clear: those who are targeted are generally from the margins of our society. They are not business executives from the EU and the USA, living in Sandton. They are workers or shopkeepers or unemployed inhabitants of townships. Most are from Africa, though many are from Pakistan and Bangladesh, so that the label “Afrophobia” is inaccurate.

It is also important to note that xenophobia is not expressed only by angry “mobs” but often its architects use refined language. They do not use pangas. Some manipulate real grievances of the poor, which should be put at the door of the government and not immigrant communities.

At an ethical level, the consequences of allowing this continuing, low intensity war against immigrants contributes to the broader erosion of ethical values in public and private life. In South Africa today, the lines between what is right and wrong has become more and more blurred.

Acts of violence against immigrants allows for deviation from what is sacred in the treatment of “all God’s creatures” in almost all religions, as well as what is fundamental to all human rights documents, including the Freedom Charter and our Bill of Rights. There is no longer acceptance that it is wrong to act in some ways towards certain human beings. It is taken to be legitimate to attack some. The normal prohibitions are not seen to be applicable in their case and by implication their humanity is not respected and fully accepted.

That people are unlawfully in the country, “undocumented” (previously “illegal aliens”) does justify legal processes being brought against them and in many cases, their deportation. But it does not justify the assumption that illegal migration connotes a range of other qualities such as criminal acts, including drug peddling.

A climate of hatred against foreigners has been created and a range of people who hold high office have blown hot and cold on this matter over the years, especially the police and Home Affairs officials. Media statements of police raids often lump alleged illegal immigrants together with murderers, bearers of illegal arms and drug dealers. When that type of climate is created it generates an atmosphere where action against foreign migrants is seen as socially necessary and it becomes easier to go beyond what is legally permissible.

Last Friday’s Pretoria march was depicted in media as an “anti-immigrant march” (even though there were some attempts to qualify this as focusing on those who were illegal immigrants or criminals). Some of the discourse showed that it had the clear potential to attack all non-South African migrants. Would there not be a legal case to forbid the march under South African law?

As we know, there were indiscriminate attacks on immigrants and some migrant communities were prepared to resist by force where considered necessary. What does the law and the constitution say about such marches? If there were a legal basis for forbidding them, as does appear to be the case, was it responsible to allow it to proceed in light of the inflammatory language that preceded it?

We know what has happened in Rosettenville and Pretoria in the last few weeks. But xenophobic action has been continuous in post-apartheid South Africa, though it generally occurs below the radar. It may well be happening at this very moment in some rural villages and townships. And what is more alarming is that violence and other illegal acts are perpetrated against such migrants without any sense that there will be recriminations.

When a group is known to be vulnerable, acts that increase that vulnerability often pile up: police demand bribes or tear up the papers of those who are legally present in South Africa; landlords demand sex or perpetrate other forms of abuse.

And Home Affairs is cast in the role of an imperial figure with powers to determine whether or not someone gets papers and with what delay, even when they are legally qualified. It also entitles the department to monitor whether those who are at work are legally employed. The fact of the matter is that even though there is claimed to be a legitimate clampdown on illegal immigrants, those whose papers are in order are not spared.

It is my understanding that Home Affairs officials have approached at least one restaurant and insisted that a 60% quota of South Africans must be employed. There is no law that demands that, yet in the name of the law it is claimed they approached this restaurant with this stipulation, thus engendering increased vulnerability even among those who are legally in the country and legally employed.

When one reads accounts of the attacks that have been experienced over many years, there is a constant refrain from immigrant communities, including some people who are packing up and leaving, even though the reason for entering South Africa was turmoil or poverty in their home country. They cry that they are human beings and that their humanity or their fellow African personhood is not recognised. Can this have happened in South Africa, a country that has emerged from the dehumanising grip of apartheid?

Let us be clear that all South Africans do not perpetrate the acts against these communities. There are many South Africans who try to intervene to protect vulnerable immigrants or give them shelter.

The central question that confronts us as a nation is: are we to abandon or have we abandoned notions of solidarity that drove the struggle against apartheid that was based on claims of a universal humanity? Or are we to succumb to callousness and indifference and allow the vulnerable to be attacked, victimised in a range of ways and made forever unwelcome in our country?

The unionists say, “an injury to one is an injury to all”. Should we not all be standing alongside the immigrants and saying these attacks must stop now? That is a call to government, but it is also a call to us, as citizens, to join together in our various associations and organisations, and stand with these communities. That is the tradition of our freedom struggle that must be retrieved and invoked now.



Raymond Suttner is a scholar and political analyst. Currently he is a Part-time Professor attached to Rhodes University and an Emeritus Professor at UNISA.  He served lengthy periods in prison and house arrest for underground and public anti-apartheid activities.  His prison memoir Inside Apartheid’s prison will be reissued with a new foreword covering his more recent “life outside the ANC” and will be published by Jacana Media in the first half of this year. He blogs at and his twitter handle is @raymondsuttner




Empty politics in a time of crisis (from, reprinted in Daily Maverick and 6 February 2017)

Current South African political discussion appears fixated on the ANC succession race, over who will succeed Jacob Zuma as ANC president (if he fails to stand again, which cannot be excluded) at the end of this year. The best efforts of many analysts are devoted to speculating over who is most likely to take his place and the various alignments of forces within the ANC behind one or other candidate.


None of this discussion relates to programmes that any of these candidates might implement that could free South Africa from the wide-ranging political, economic and institutional crisis it now confronts. And we can’t blame the analysts, since none of the candidates have identified themselves with any concrete, developed vision. There is nothing in this “debate” that can give cause for hope to those who still have not derived benefits from post-apartheid South Africa.


Politics has disappeared from the ANC, an organisation where debate once thrived, where members used to spend many hours arguing over the direction the organisation and the struggle should take. It has been emptied of serious discussion over change and ways of achieving change.


For that to exist there must be a serious commitment to programmatic goals and that would require organisational renewal. My sense is that it is too late, and too many of the interventions to “correct” the direction the ANC now takes hark back to a past that is itself contested, and which cannot serve as an adequate guide to navigate the challenges the organisation now confronts.


We know, of course, that the ANC will again develop one or other formulation to supplement the “National Democratic Revolution (NDR)” at its policy conference and at the elective conference at the end of the year. A few years ago it was the “second transition” or some such phrase. One can be careless about the exact words because there was no substance to the phrase and no programme for implementing anything different or meaningful relating to the fate of those who need substantial change in their lives. There is no intention to make that change happen.


The same goes for the SACP, which may sometimes operate with very learned doctrines, but in practice has endorsed or been indifferent to most of what has wreaked havoc with people’s lives in the last nine to 10 years.


Even if Zuma were to go, patronage politics, often merging into corruption, has become so entrenched within ways of running the ANC that no one has time for discussing ideas. Ideas, in any case, have no bearing on what matters most to most politicians or aspirant politicians ‒ that is, what will benefit them personally.


All efforts have been bent towards further improving the lives of those who are already benefitting from access to state power, or those who hold such power or can appoint people to positions or ensure that they have the opportunity to secure one or other contract. For purposes of succession it means that no candidate is electable unless s/he can offer material benefits: an opportunity to “eat” by fair or foul means. Delegates are no longer interested in hearing about “NDR”. They want to know what one or other person’s candidature signifies for them in rand or dollar terms. People are now killed in order to secure a share of these spoils.


There are repeated suggestions for electoral reform, moving to a constituency system with one or other variation, sometimes including elements of proportional representation (PR). However, buying of voters and offers of jobs and other rewards occur just as easily under constituency systems as under PR systems. To think that tinkering with modes of election will retrieve the integrity required in our politics is myopic.


The economic crisis, inter alia, almost zero growth with over 40% unemployed, with some 50% of youth amongst these – interfaces with what has become a crisis of legitimacy. State institutions have been hollowed out and the president and others act with impunity, undermining and defying the law of the land.


Any other president with so many clouds hanging over him would act with caution and humility. Zuma has a sense that he can do what he likes, fostered partly by the continued organisational backing he enjoys. He remains bold and ready to plunge the country into further crises should it be personally beneficial for him and his close associates. He is unconcerned about the fate of the economy or the country as a whole so long as there is something in it for him. Hence the continued rumours around firing the Finance Minister or bringing institutions like the banks to heel. Relegation to junk status does not concern him.


It is a paradox that many of those who cream off state resources (required to bring about major transformation), who have captured or sought to capture state institutions in order to pillage wealth, are now attacking “white monopoly capital”. Is it not reasonable to ask whether big (predominantly) white capital, which is less dependent on the state for its economic advancement, may well be more amenable to transformation than those who are intent on diverting state resources towards their own benefit? In other words, the attack on “white monopoly capital” is one of many diversions used to divert attention from looting state resources.


That the constituency the ANC purports to serve does not figure highly in these calculations or discussions is illustrated by the cynical callousness of government, one of the more notable being the Minister of Social Development, Bathabile Dlamini, in relation to the continued issuing of social grants. The department will certainly miss the deadline to change the service provider for administering grants and appeal to the Constitutional Court for an extension of the contract with the provider, who was found to have been awarded the contract illegally. Likewise, the Esidimeni tragedy, where at least 94 lives have now been lost in Gauteng, speaks to a level of indifference towards the fate of vulnerable people that was not what many would have expected under an ANC-led government.


South African legitimacy crisis. There is a sense amongst many South Africans that they are trapped in a political situation that does not serve their needs but where they are powerless to remedy it. They have voted repeatedly and their vote has proved to lack the power to remedy the multiple crises that beset the country or to combat the indifference to those who suffer from this malgovernance, on the part of the current leadership of the ANC and the country.


The vote for which so many people fought so long and hard has proved to be an inadequate weapon. One can only vote for what is offered and if the process of selection of candidates has been “captured” in the sense that it depends on money and patronage then there is little space for citizens to vote for that which can make a difference to their lives.


The Constitution, which has been so widely admired and seen by many as one of the most advanced in the world, has proved insufficient to avert the hollowing out of institutions of state. No constitution maker has been able to craft a document sufficiently powerful to address the type of challenges that are now faced: challenges of impunity, dysfunctionality of state institutions, undermining or defiance of the law. It is evident to all that key state institutions like the Hawks, the NPA, SARS, ESKOM, Denel, Transnet and many others have been bent to serve the needs for enrichment of a group closely allied to the president.


Significantly, despite the limitations to which I have alluded, the local government elections indicated that many citizens were prepared to exercise a choice outside the ANC and brought DA-led metros in alliance with the EFF and other parties into being. The City of Cape Town has claimed many achievements in the 10 years of DA rule, as has the Western Cape. But, as indicated before, the DA may well fall short of what is required by much of the electorate and be unable to sustain or extend their victories.


Obviously the alliance with the EFF has its own stresses, but the DA itself has an ambiguous relationship with the black majority and the poor more generally. Its efficiency has tended to be skewed against the poor and it is widely perceived to be insufficiently sensitive to racism.


Its emphasis on getting things done tends to lack compassion. People can see this and it may well mean that there is a definite ceiling to the support it can attract.


But what are we to do, if the electoral terrain appears unlikely to provide an emancipatory outcome? It would be a mistake to abandon electoralism or to write off the ANC. Even if one takes the example of the slide into decadence of the once proud Indian Congress in India, there is no iron rule that precludes recovery on the part of the ANC. At this point in time, however, that appears unlikely.


Without abandoning the electoral terrain it is nevertheless important to explore additional options. At this point in time, where the choices that may matter most are not offered through party political elections, it is important to augment those choices. There is a need for a broad alliance of forces, but not simply a replica of the UDF of the 1980s, which mainly spoke for the poor. It needs to be even wider in potential scope.


We know that business has intervened – albeit behind closed doors ‒ to try to remedy some disastrous decisions and avert others. We also know that most voters belong to faith communities and that citizens belong to a range of other sectors and organisations that are concerned about the country and their liberties. None of these – rich or poor ‒ derive benefit from the current lawlessness and corruption that runs through government. All have a common interest in clean government and meaningful steps need to be taken to bring these forces together.


Leaders from these diverse sectors, who care about the future of their country need to hold discussions, if they are not already doing so, in order to build a common front that can rescue the country we love from its present impasse.


Raymond Suttner is a scholar and political analyst. Currently he is a Part-time Professor attached to Rhodes University and an Emeritus Professor at UNISA.  He served lengthy periods in prison and house arrest for underground and public anti-apartheid activities.  His prison memoir Inside Apartheid’s prison will be reissued with a new afterword, by Jacana Media in the first half of this year. He blogs at and his twitter handle is @raymondsuttner



Political freedom and values beyond elections by Raymond Suttner (Polity)


[This article first appeared on Creamer Media’s website:]


Political freedom and values beyond elections




This week’s elections, which could lead to significant changes in electoral power of the ANC and other parties, are very important. But if we want to build a society on an emancipatory basis, we need questions to be addressed that go beyond what is currently being offered by – or is at stake in – elections. That is not to say that parties cannot address these questions, but they first need to be raised. Continue reading

Raymond Suttner: An attack on a foreign migrant is an attack on us all (Polity)

While the extent of xenophobic attacks may not be widely known, the broad facts are relatively clear. Continue reading