Various important developments this week form an interesting political pattern. They seem unrelated, but if one joins the dots, the implications are clear: the ANC's policy of cadre deployment is coming home to roost, with devastating consequences for our emerging democracy.
The DA has warned for over a decade that cadre deployment is the root cause of the "failed state". But these criticisms have never been taken seriously. The ANC has managed to disguise cadre deployment as "racial transformation". Anyone who opposes it, therefore, is labeled a racist. This has bludgeoned many critics into silence.
For a democracy to work, power must be held to account. Power abuse must be checked and prevented. For this reason, the institutions of state, (such as the courts, the electoral commission and the public broadcaster) must be genuinely independent from the ruling party. They must be accountable to their constitutional mandate. They must protect the public interest, not the party's interests. This is where the notion of the separation of powers comes from. The concept covers both the distinction between the party and the state, and the separation of powers within the institutions of the state: the executive, the legislature and the judiciary. The "separation of powers" is the cornerstone of accountable democracy.
Cadre deployment is deliberately designed to destroy the "separation of powers" and ensure that the institutions of state act in the party's interests. The "party's interests" are defined by a small inner circle, responsible for "deploying cadres" to all positions of power. That is why the battle of Polokwane was so pivotal. It determined which faction in the ANC would define the party's interests and deploy its "loyal cadres" to control the institutions of state.
Cadre deployment is justified by a deceptively simple argument: the people voted for the ANC. Therefore in deploying its cadres, the ANC is acting on the mandate of the people. But the lessons of history are clear. Inevitably, and immediately, the absence of effective independent institutions leads to power abuse. On our continent, the trajectory to the failed state has been direct: centralization of power and "cadre deployment" lead to cronyism, corruption and the criminal state.
In this context, the front page article in the Sunday newspaper, City Press, was very significant. The newspaper reported that the ANC was rethinking its cadre deployment policy because it was the "key reason for the collapse of local government".
"Deployed cadres are perceived to have crippled service delivery in many municipalities" the newspaper stated, noting that a culture of "patronage and nepotism" had become so rife in municipalities that they have become inaccessible and unaccountable. "The lack of values, principles or ethics...indicates that there are officials and public representatives for whom public service is not a concern, but accruing wealth at the expense of the poor is"
It is a huge step forward that the root cause of the failed local state is being recognized -- at least in some ANC circles.
It is also a good thing that the national government is reportedly planning to strip ANC provincial and regional executive committees of their powers to deploy party officials rather than appoint professionals to municipal positions. The problem is that, instead, the ANC plans to centralize its deployment powers nationally -- which will predictably make the consequences of cadre deployment even worse.
This was dramatically and powerfully illustrated as events unfolded during the week.
On Tuesday, President Zuma convened a meeting to discuss the crisis in local government with mayors and municipal managers from throughout South Africa. The most interesting aspect of this meeting was the frank analysis by various mayors, of the impact of "cadre deployment" on service delivery.
One mayor complained that the local ANC structures in her town regarded her as a deployed cadre. This meant she could not fulfill her functions as mayor. When she sought to take an impartial decision in the interests of good governance, she was countermanded. She was told that unless she followed the party's instructions she would be "redeployed". The party's instructions, of course, come from a small clique of local leaders, usually seeking to promote their personal wealth and influence.
Another mayor received applause when she described service delivery boycotts as a manifestation of faction fights within the ruling party. If one local ANC faction controlled "deployment" into local government structures, an opposing ANC faction would deliberately disrupt service delivery (by blocking the sewage system, for example) in order to create a reason for people to protest in the streets. This was then dressed up as a "service delivery" protest, with the express purpose of achieving the redeployment of local leaders, and replacing them with their rivals.
Before the week had ended, this prediction had come to pass.
Julius Malema was given a hero's welcome in Standerton, when he arrived to announce the "recall" of the Lekwa mayor, the speaker, the chief whip and all members of the mayoral committee. Significantly it was not the Minister of Local Government, Sicelo Shiceka, who went to Lekwa to issue instructions. It was Malema, the populist demagogue, who showed he was in charge. Malema's visit to Lekwa this week demonstrated exactly what the ANC meant when it said it would remove "deployment powers" from local ANC structures, and centralize them nationally.
Ironically, as Malema was firing the Lekwa mayor, an independent ranking of local authorities placed the municipal district in which the Lekwa council is situated, in fourth position -- a very good ranking -- on the service delivery improvement index of local government throughout South Africa.
Irrespective of whether the Lekwa mayor and the mayoral committee were doing their jobs properly, or whether their removal from office was justified, the implication of their firing is clear. As the ANC's faction fights intensify, they will increasingly manifest themselves as "service delivery protests" with the aim of repeating the Lekwa precedent. It is not far-fetched to imagine Julius Malema and his cohorts controlling a centralized "deployment" committee, determining which ANC cadres will control every municipality. Any mayor or municipal manager that acts independently, or that differs from the ANC's Malema faction, can expect to face "service delivery protests" resulting in redeployment.
This is the inevitable result of the cadre deployment policy. Centralising cadre deployment will make things worse, not better. It is time to abandon cadre deployment completely and appoint or elect people to positions on the basis of their capacity to do the job, not as a return for political favours. It is time to restore and respect the distinction between the party and the state.
The greatest irony of the week was that this point was stressed by none other than Mr Joel Netshitenzhe, as he announced his resignation from the President's office. It was Joel Netshitenzhe, as the ANC's chief policy guru, who first articulated and promoted the cadre deployment policy in 1997. Writing in the ANC mouthpiece Umrabulo, he said "transformation" meant "extending the power of the ‘National Liberation Movement' over all levers of power: the army, the police, the bureaucracy, intelligent structures, the judiciary, parastatals, and agencies such as regulatory bodies, the public broadcaster, the central bank and so on."
He approved of this approach while the Mbeki faction was in power and controlled cadre deployment. When this faction lost power, Mr Netshitenzhe changed his mind. When people who abuse their power lose their power, and become victims of power abuse themselves, they become instant converts to the cause of preventing the abuse of power. The wheel has turned and the man who was the architect of the policy to fuse party and state, argues for their separation as an essential element of democracy. Every convert is a victory in this battle. But there is still a long fight ahead.
This article by Helen Zille first appeared in SA Today, the weekly online newsletter of the leader of the Democratic Alliance, October 23 2009
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