Make merit the measure everywhere

Douglas Gibson on the real lesson of our success in the Rugby World Cup final

Make merit the measure

Older readers will remember the Progressives' election slogan a generation ago: "Make merit the measure."

Every commentator tells us to learn the lessons of the World Rugby Cup final. Mine is to point to that old slogan and say that everywhere in South Africa, where we accept merit and do not judge or choose people according to their race, their language or their religion, we achieve success. Where we ignore the provisions of our Constitution, which proclaims the equality of us all and celebrates our diversity, we fall back into the failure and the old prejudices of the past.

Look at almost any facet of government, at every level, local, provincial or national. It is difficult to point to any one of them, including the State-Owned Enterprises, that is not a mess or a disaster in the making.

The thread that runs through all of them is that after a generation of ANC racism, which largely ignores the Constitutional imperative of non-racialism, what counts is race, not merit. The ANC, especially under President Ramaphosa, strongly supports what is known as cadre deployment.

What this means in practice is that those black South Africans who are either members of the ANC or else well-connected with ANC leaders will secure appointment to jobs from the most menial to the very top of the bureaucratic tree.

Some of the persons so employed, not all, are unqualified, inexperienced, and just not competent to fill vacancies. Some of the biggest jobs in the panoply of appointments available for government to fill are held by persons simply not up to the task entrusted to them. All of this is done under the excuse of "transformation."

This is sold to South Africa as being a supreme effort to bring black people into the mainstream in every facet of life in our country; it actually ends up meaning jobs for the elite pals of the government. There are, of course, people who grow with the challenge of their appointment and develop into competent, self-confident and hard-working servants of the people. Many do not. The appalling litany of service delivery failures everywhere is testimony of that.

Why do the people in charge not begin to appreciate that it should be merit, not ANC connections, or being the right colour, or tribe or language, that determines who should be appointed and who should be promoted? Enlightened people, and one includes the DA and the other parties in the Opposition Pact, regard the individual human being as the touchtone of value.

The Progressives stood for that 60 years ago. The DA today believes in that. This explains the attachment to the promises of the Constitution and explains too, the implacable opposition to the racism of the EFF and to most of the ANC.

Look at rugby and cricket to see examples of successful transformation. Neither is a majority sport in South Africa. Most South Africans, reputed to be soccer-mad, have never played, or indeed, watched rugby or cricket until recently.

Suddenly, rugby, and increasingly, cricket, attract remarkable loyalty, interest, passion and national pride. Look at the teams. Does anyone believe Siya Kolisi is not an inspirational leader? Does anyone believe there are players, black, white, coloured or Indian who are not included on merit?

Why is it so difficult to get our rulers to understand that if they pursue merit, as opposed to party affiliation or colour, South Africa can fly?

Douglas Gibson is a former opposition chief whip and former ambassador to Thailand. His email is [email protected]

This article first appeared in The Star newspaper.