It should not be about race. Nor gender. Nor family, social connections or party membership. Merit should be the only criterion when making senior appointments.
That’s not the rote rhetoric of a hard-hearted reactionary, indifferent to the need for transformation. That’s the opinion of Barbara Hogan, someone who has spent a lifetime immersed in the ideology of change.
A member of the African National Congress for 42 of her 66 years, she spent eight years in prison for high treason. She’s married to Ahmed Kathrada, Struggle hero, Treason Trialist, and SA Communist Party luminary.
This week Hogan told the Zondo Commission: “It cannot be that closeness to or membership of the ANC, or any of its alliance structures, or to factions within these structures, should be the determining factors in the selection of candidates for senior positions. In this day and age, there are a host of capable black and white professionals (women and men) from which to choose.”
That is somewhat of an about-face on the ANC’s policy of cadre deployment and it’s stalking horse, affirmative action. But then again, Hogan has experienced the grim reality of the policy.
In 2009 she was appointed by Kgalema Motlanthe as Health minister, tasked with rescuing that department from the damage caused by that alcoholic beetroot-purveyor, Manto Tshabalala-Msimang. She then survived for 18 months, a comparatively long period in a Jacob Zuma Cabinet, as the Minister of Public Enterprises, before being fired for resisting the state capture project.
There’s been no need to follow the proceedings of the Zondo Commission to know that a swathe of state institutions has been hijacked by a cabal of crooks and conmen. We all have firsthand experience of a government that is increasingly corrupt and dysfunctional.
Nothing that the state has a hand in works as it should. Want policing? Hire private guards. Want health? Pay for private medical care. Want education? Pay for private teaching.
The reason for this is that many ministries are barely operative. As did his predecessor Thabo Mbeki to a lesser degree, Zuma chose ministers and their deputies overwhelmingly on the basis of personal loyalty rather than merit. He reshuffled his enormous cabinet of 35 portfolios, on average, every nine months.
Potentially, the delivery of state services can survive such lacklustre, revolving-door political masters. A professional public service has institutional memory and loyalty to the administrative process, not to a fickle political patron.
Unfortunately, the civil service has been gutted. At a senior level, virtually no career public servants remain, just a steady procession of highly-paid political appointments. These men and women have few discernible skills, or if they do, the appointees never survive long enough to apply them.
Last year, the Institute of Race Relations — in one of those bits of research that university academics used to undertake before they began to devote all their attention to suckling at the hind tit of ANC beneficence — analysed the extraordinary amount of cadre churn in Zuma’s administration. Over an eight-year period, in the 38 government departments that existed, 172 people held the post of director-general, each remaining it for an average of 22 months.
If the likes of Hogan and President Cyril Ramaphosa — as shown by the current process to find an independent, competent National Director of Public Prosecutions — have now embraced the idea of a meritocracy, that’s good news. But it's not going to be a simple matter to change the ANC.
Deployment is key to the part and its allies. The ANC is an enormous, self-fuelling engine of patronage. If Ramaphosa and his merry band want to retain their tenuous hold on power, they, too, will have to use deployment.
As Democratic Alliance leader Mmusi Maimane points out in an open letter to Ramaphosa, the ANC stated more than two decades ago that its policy was to capture control of every aspect of the state by deploying loyal cadres to key non-political positions. It was Ramaphosa, himself, who announced the launch of the “Decade of the Cadre” in 2012.
Targets included the military, the judiciary, and Chapter Nine institutions, all of which the Constitution envisaged as non-partisan. It is cadre deployment that has delivered us into the hands of a Public Protector who is no more of a political assassin, as well as the timid and hopelessly biased SA Human Rights Commission.
A further problem is that once deployed and affirmatively-actioned, the people appointed are difficult to dislodge. Disgraced former SA Revenue Service commissioner Tom Moyane this week launched a High Court application to reverse his firing and block the appointment of a successor.
Also fighting his dismissal is former Transnet CEO Siyabonga Gama. So, too, did Shaun Abrahams at the National Prosecuting Authority. And Hlaude Motsoeneng at the state broadcaster.
The ANC will not, cannot, relinquish deployment. And deployment makes state capture not an aberration, but an inevitability.
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