Cadre deployment is not the issue

Mugabe Ratshikuni says some very clever, well-educated people, were involved in state capture

In his From the Desk of the President column this week, where he talks about building the capacity of the state being a key priority of this administration as we have just entered a new decade, President Ramaphosa said the following words which have gotten a lot of people excited, We are committed to end the practice of poorly qualified individuals being parachuted into positions of authority through political patronage. There should be consequences for all those in the public service who do not do their work.”

Many have fallaciously interpreted this to mean that the President is saying that the ruling African National Congress is finally doing away with its much-maligned cadre deployment policy, which is almost like a swear word for many in contemporary South Africa.

Firstly, this is based on the wrong assumption that there is something innately wrong with cadre deployment. For a party that wins a popular mandate during elections and now has to drive its political programme through the bureaucracy, cadre deployment is a no brainer, in fact, cadre deployment (albeit perhaps under a different name) happens even in celebrated western democracies, where a party will bring its own people to certain key positions within the state, in order to drive its political programme in conjunction with the professionalised, apolitical (when it comes to work) career bureaucracy; based on the popular mandate given to it by the electorate. This is par for the course, in any normal, healthy democracy.

The second false assumption that is betrayed in how people have reacted to the President’s words in the piece quoted above, is the almost universally accepted supposed “truism” that the South African state is in shambles and incapable of delivering because of highly incompetent, uneducated people.

Well, I beg to differ. There are a lot of competent, capable, highly qualified, intelligent and skilled people who helped facilitate state capture and almost collapsed the South African state. State capture, which set the country back, was not due to lack of capacity and skill through not having education and experience, but rather it was educated, highly competent cadres who actually facilitated and implemented state capture.

So, education and skill is critical in taking President Ramaphosa’s “New Dawn” forward, but history has shown us that highly educated, skilled people with no moral compass are actually more dangerous to the health and well-being of a society, than unskilled ones, as was evidenced during the global economic collapse of 2008 which was caused by highly educated, technically competent but unscrupulous individuals or by the VBS saga (the VBS criminals where mostly qualified chartered accountants, lawyers etc). Eskom was also collapsed by educated, highly skilled but unethical people.

So, education and technical skill and proficiency are necessary but not sufficient conditions for building the capacity of the state. What is needed beyond that in order to enhance the capacity of the state, is what former President Nelson Mandela referred to in 1999, in a speech he gave at the Community Builder of the Year Awards, “an RDP of the soul for the moral regeneration of our society.”

This sounds impractically idealistic and corny but is in truth one of the fundamental things that is missing in those who are deployed to the state, hence they are so susceptible to corruption and compromise at the expense of the public. So, the problem isn’t cadre deployment per se, but rather the type of people that have been deployed to the state, meaning that the problem is that the ANC has not properly exercised its cadre deployment policy, hence the charlatans and unskilled people we’ve seen running amok within the state.

At its fifty third national conference at Mangaung in 2012, here’s what the ANC said about cadre deployment as part of organisational renewal, “In the new phase of the NDR, deployment should always be preceded by systematic academic, ideological, and ethical training and political preparation. Cadre deployment should be underpinned by a rigorous system of monitoring and evaluation of the performance of cadres deployed and elected to leadership positions.”

if this is the kind of cadre that the ANC was deploying to the state: one with academic qualifications, technical skills and a moral, ethical compass, I doubt we would have suffered the ignominy of state capture as a country and no one would be complaining about cadre deployment, but the problem is that the ANC hasn’t been properly implementing its cadre deployment policy and so now society wants to “throw the baby out with the bath water” as the cliché goes.

Proper cadre deployment should enhance the capacity of the organisation to deliver on its electoral mandate through the state, to transform society in a positive and meaningful manner. It should enhance its capacity to govern and deliver on its promise to improve the material conditions of the people of South Africa, to be a genuine strategic centre of society that continually takes South African society forward, not backwards, to lead on innovation and technology in order to move towards the country’s developmental aspirations.

So, what is needed is not for the ANC to ditch its cadre deployment policy, but rather that it enforces and implements it fully and, in this way, enhance the capacity of the state to deliver and grow South Africa in an all-encompassing manner that benefits the citizenry. In the end, as the ANC itself admitted at Mangaung in 2012, “the neglect of cadre policy is at the centre of most of the current weaknesses and challenges faced by our movement in the post-1994 era.”

Mugabe Ratshikuni works for the Gauteng provincial government; He is an activist with a passion for social justice and transformation. He writes here in his personal capacity.