No longer justifiable

2010-09-14 00:00

THE connection between pervasive deployment of political cadres in the government and the ills of governance in South Africa is becoming ever more apparent.

There are those who are vehemently opposed to post-apartheid political deployment for ideological reasons and because it is assumed to be anti-meritocracy. There are also those who understand the necessity of deployment as a strategy for transformation of the government, but detest its excessive use to give jobs to pals, which worsens the problem of political corruption.

Increasingly, the governing party is concerned that this strategy is being used to undermine its own agenda and processes. It decries the creeping culture of crass materialism and nepotism in the manner in which its operatives use political deployment.

More recently, this concern is being echoed publicly rather than in internal political and secretariats’ reports. It is not just Cosatu, the SACP and the ANC Youth League that are speaking out openly against the rampant misuse of deployment, but even individual leaders such as Nyami Booi, a senior ANC member of Parliament and Billy Masetlha, a member of the ANC’s National Executive Council, are doing so.

As we managed a tricky transition from apartheid to democracy, it was necessary to deploy trusted politicians in political positions and competent struggle activists in technical positions in the government. The transformation sought would not happen if the old apartheid-era bureaucrats, many of whom had been politically appointed by the old order, were left to appoint officials on the basis of merit. But it is no longer justifiable to deploy cadres willy-nilly and in positions other than very strategic offices to drive the implementation of the governing party’s mandate. A decade of transition has progressed well enough for authorities to subject most technical positions in the government and parastatals to open competition, while mindful of the need to transform state and society continuously.

Governments the world over accept the fact that political candidates will from time to time be appointed into government. But, in most stable countries, deployment is seen as a part of a strategic and calculated strategy for strengthening the government rather than a substitute for standard employment of public servants. So, it is limited to a few positions seen as critical for this purpose rather than the majority of managerial positions in government.

In times of drastic transitions such as from apartheid to democracy, drastic deployment was justifiable because by its nature apartheid was about exclusion of the majority of the population. As under colonialism, the system had placed its ideologically trained cadres throughout the government and in parts of the private sector. It was a system of social engineering. To undo this required drastic transformation.

But I am one of those who believe such deployment should be conducted carefully and be seen as a temporary strategy to be gradually phased out after two government terms or so. This is because, in the long run, transformation kick-started by deployment and other forms of positive discrimination can only be sustained through strong education and opening socioeconomic opportunities for the previously disadvantaged.

That the appointment of government officials is still so pervasive almost 16 years after freedom is partly because the governing party knows that its successive governments have so far failed to transform the education and training sectors effectively.

The school system opened to all population groups, but it remains defective and produces poorly educated citizens. Government established sectoral training authorities to enhance technical training, but these are poorly managed and produce mediocre results. Universities are not just burdened with students who are poorly educated by the schooling system, but have been generally weak in training the country’s future leaders.

Apprenticeship and other efforts by the private sector have remained small in number and limited in scope.

After a decade and a half, pervasive political deployment in government and state agencies, mainly by structures of the ANC, is hurting governance and the ANC itself. It suggests to predators that the easiest way to plunder public resources is to penetrate and manipulate positions in the governing party, turning it into a platform for corruption. This transforms internal political contests into battles for access by political predators.

Deployment now unfairly discriminates against deserving and competent black and young people in general. It is now increasingly about politically connected, rather than political prepared individuals.

As Booi is quoted as having said by the press, the long-term effect of excessive political deployment is to lower the stature of institutions of governance in the eyes of society. It also justifies future political cleansing of the government should a new party get into power. This will introduce dangerous fluidity in our political system.

It is time now to debate how political deployment should be narrowed to a few positions in government. We should debate how such a limited deployment should be managed and the alternative ways of transforming public institutions. Ke nako, the time is now.

• Siphamandla Zondi is the executive director of the Institute for Global Dialogue, but writes in his personal capacity.

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