South Africa’s Constitutional Court ordered the government on Friday to pay social grants on April 1 via its current service provider, seeking to end a fiasco that had threatened the payment of benefits to 17 million people.
The court also sharply censured Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini, calling her inaction to resolve the crisis incomprehensible.
The saga is the latest example of allies of President Jacob Zuma being called to account for incompetence or poor performance since he took office in 2009. It has prompted scathing criticism of the government, including from Nobel Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu.
“The fact that it has come to this underlines the moral bankruptcy of the Zuma regime,” Tutu said in an opinion piece published on Business Live.
Pauline Masiq, a 74-year old mother of six who walks with a crutch and lives in Johannesburg welcomed the court ruling. She receives 1,600 rand ($125) a month in social grants.
“I’m very much pleased,” she said. “It means a lot to me because I have to pay for burials, pay food, pay rent and buy water and electricity… it helps me a lot.”
The chaos over the grants stems from the social welfare department failing to take responsibility for social service payments or find a new provider after the Constitutional Court ruled in 2014 that the tender won by Cash Paymaster Services (CPS), a unit of technology company Net1, was illegal.
Net1 and CPS on Thursday expressed concern at government comments that they had acted arrogantly.
“The sole reason for this litigation is … the minister’s failure to keep its promise to the people of South Africa,” Justice Johan Froneman said on behalf of the court.The minister has since apologized.