Suspensions galore

2008-05-09 00:00

The suspension of highly-placed officials has become a routine feature of South African life. But the SABC must have set a record with its head of news and current affairs, Snuki Zikalala, and its chief executive, Dali Mpofu, both relieved of their duties within a few hours. While details are obscure, they probably reflect fault lines within the ANC.

Another high-profile suspension, that of the head of the National Prosecuting Authority, Vusi Pikoli, is back in the news: the Ginwala inquiry into his fitness to hold office began this week. There is evidence to support the theory that Pikoli was suspended because he refused to obey an instruction from the Minister of Justice to stop his investigation into allegations of corruption against national police commissioner, Jackie Selebi.

Can South Africa afford the cost of ANC factionalism in key national institutions? The public has good cause to suspect that more time is spent on infighting than day-to-day management and future planning. This probably exceeds the more obvious wasted expenditure on salaries paid to those kicking their heels at home awaiting the outcome of investigations.

Other suspensions are the result of criminal or other inappropriate activity. But they raise the same general concern about the consequences of political patronage. At all levels of government and within parastatal organisations there is ample evidence that appointments have been made on the strength of political allegiance rather than professional ability, aptitude and experience.

This has become all the more obvious now that rifts have developed in the formerly monolithic ANC. A pall has been cast over a number of vital institutions rendered increasingly dysfunctional as a result of turf wars. South Africa is awash with people pursuing political agendas that often double as personal ambition. It is a totally unacceptable situation.

Whatever the context, be it local government, broadcasting or the judicial system, institutions desperately need career structures that encourage, reward and retain dedicated individuals of integrity. Their professional lives should be conducted within the parameters and policies set by the government. But their personal politics should remain a private matter, not one played out in the workplace.

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