The South African Social Security Agency (Sassa) and the Department of Social Development must put all their ducks in a row now that the Constitutional Court has given them a second chance to prove themselves, Minister Bathabile Dlamini said on Friday.
Speaking on the side-lines of a Sassa event in Kempton Park, on the East Rand, Dlamini told journalists that she fully accepted the court's decision and would adhere to its orders.
"But one other important thing that we want to continuously do is to apologise to South Africans, more particularly the beneficiaries, for all the trouble they have taken and we want to say we are going to strive and ensure that this does not happen again."
When asked whether Sassa would be ready to take over the payment of grants at the end of the extended 12-month period, she said they would "endeavour" to do so.
"We have to endeavour to do that, we have to put all our ducks in a row, ensure that everyone understands their roles, reporting back as well as monitoring and [evaluating] our work," she said.
Earlier on Friday the Constitutional Court handed down a judgment extending Cash Paymaster Service's (CPS) unlawful contract with Sassa for 12 more months. It suspended its declaration of the invalidity for that period.
"The sole reason for the litigation leading to this judgment is the failure of Sassa and the minister to keep their promise to this court and the people of South Africa," Justice Johan Froneman said.
'It could have been worse'
He said one of the signature achievements of the country's constitutional democracy was the establishment of an inclusive and effective programme of social assistance.
"It has made a material impact in reducing poverty and inequality and in mitigating the consequences of high levels of unemployment. In so doing it has given some content to the core constitutional values of dignity, equality and freedom.
"This judgment is, however, not an occasion to celebrate this achievement.
"To the contrary, it is necessitated by the extraordinary conduct of the minister and Sassa that has placed that achievement in jeopardy."
Dlamini and Sassa were also ordered to file affidavits to the court every three months.
She told reporters that it could have been worse.
"Worse could have come out of this. This is giving us, and more particularly myself - a second opportunity to prove my commitment to my work - so I highly appreciate that we are given a second opportunity to account," she said.
Need for fairness
Dlamini did not want to be drawn into laying blame on any particular individuals or whether she would be taking action against any Sassa officials who had erred in their roles in the period leading up to the crisis.
"We haven't discussed this matter [of taking action], firstly.
"Secondly, I think we all need to be fair because we have all admitted that we agreed to an ambitious but doable programme. And we have to prove how we are going to be able to implement our programme, all of us."
She said the department would be using the time given to them by the court to make sure that they allocated all the transitional phases to the relevant individuals.
"We're going to divide our phases according to months; therefore we are going to be judged on the basis of what we take per phase."
Dlamini was also ordered to submit an affidavit by March 31 explaining to the court why she should not be joined to the case in her personal capacity, and why she should not pay the costs of the parties who brought the case out of her own pocket.
When asked how she felt about the order, Dlamini paused for a moment before saying that no one individual could be singled out for the situation in which Sassa had found itself.
"This is the work of a collective, but if a court says at the end of the day: 'Take responsibility', we are going to ask: 'How should we take responsibility for the whole thing that has happened?'"
"Therefore, I personally think this time is not a time to say: 'No, I would not have agreed to this, I would have agreed to this [instead].'"
"I think this time is more precious and important because it's giving us an opportunity to apologise and to recommit ourselves and understand that if you are given an instruction by courts, you must take it very seriously," she said.