An Arab Intellectual, whose perceptive analysis on global issues is often revealing for its brilliance, told me this recently, “I visited South Africa after you obtained freedom in 1995 and surmised – a white state with a black scarf” - which then got me thinking about what that black scarf has done since....
Apartheid South Africa had the whole world fixated on the injustices, pain and suffering a minority of White settlers inflicted on the Black native majority, even the UN resolved that it was a crime against humanity.
1994 – Saw culmination of years of struggle and finally, the first free and democratic elections staged in South Africa, wherein the African National Congress (ANC) led by Mandela won a resounding victory and in their magnanimity opted to form a Government of National Unity with the White Nationalists (NATS) to smooth over the transition from Apartheid to Democracy and in tandem a ‘Truth and Reconciliation Commission’ was convened to forgive the Whites for all their transgressions and crimes committed during a cruel and painful era.
So my friend was spot on, with his observations of a ‘white state with a black scarf’, meaning a white civil service with a black government and you may ask, how do I know?
Well, I was there when it all happened and just prior to it all panning out, I became the first diplomat of colour having served in Beverly Hills, when we were the biggest and most focused media story in the world and on my return I was promoted to Spokesperson for Foreign Affairs after having single-handedly performed ‘mission impossible’, i.e. an evacuation of South Africans stuck in Saudi Arabia during the first Gulf War, a country with which we had no diplomatic relations and our successfully completing our first-ever evacuation, albeit in a war zone. Being Spokesperson, I was privileged to a ring-side seat during the Codesa Negotiations and as the World opened its doors to us. Thereafter, I left our shores to open and head new Missions in Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates. On my return I was appointed Media Coordinator for the NAM Conference, the first-ever such international meeting in South Africa.
The entire conference was staged by very able white civil servants (diplomats) until the day before it opened, when Thabo Mbeki appointed Jackie Selebi and his ‘ANC cadres’ to come along and ‘head’ the conference, carried along by seasoned officials. The black scarf was placed in order to show the world a black face.
Thereafter Selebi, as the first Black Director General of Foreign Affairs set about the strangulation of a Department that was built on a professional work culture and ethics, and of which a former Director General, Neil Van Heerden once said to me, ‘I want to have a Department that no Government can wish away’, and wish away Jackie did. His first address to officials in the Department began with, ‘I don’t care which glass you drink what with’, and all international protocol and etiquette was splashed out of the window. Thereafter, he went onto spend millions so that the Department could be ‘run on themes’, which was discarded when he was moved to head the Police and a new Director General from Labour came along to re-invent the wheel. I think, I have made my point...enough said!
The entire civil service in South Africa was likewise subject to all kinds of well-meaning initiatives couched in palatable language like: transformation, black economic empowerment and the like, all in order to bring in Blacks/or previously disadvantaged persons into the civil service so that it assumed a complexion that was representative of the demographics of the country.
On the other hand and realistically speaking ‘cadre deployment’, i.e. placing loyal ANC members, with little or no institutional knowledge or experience, into senior civil service positions, became the order of the day. These newly appointed cadres were suddenly thrust into vitally important positions that, if properly managed, could have attempted to close the gap between the haves and have-nots and improved service delivery. Instead they basked in the attention and pampering by white civil servants, who had nowhere else to go. And sadly the black scarf began to strangle the white state, meaning the civil service.
In any democracy, the division between Government and State has to be clear, as Governments may come and go but the engines of state have to continue functioning without missing a beat, but this was not to be in the new South Africa. If only meritocracy, for which all South Africans struggled and fought for, was not replaced with cadre deployment, imagine for a moment where we would have been today.
Nowadays, senior and totally inept cadres in senior positions are still being literally carried by white civil servants, who have no hope in hell of moving up the ranks but to slog away until retirement calls. The black scarf has strangled the white state and a litany of corruption, cronyism and a host of ills are being exposed daily by the media.
Is there light at the end of the tunnel or is there hope left?
Yes, there is!
A professional skills audit of existing civil servant personnel needs to be conducted by an independent body and recommended reforms should be implemented without fail.
All future senior appointments should be made by a Selection Panel composed of the Parliamentary Committee responsible for that particular Department, and this Committee should be represented by all parties and appointees should take an oath to serve the country first and represent the Government of the day secondly.
That is the nature and ethics that the civil service ought to subscribe to. The black scarf has to be loosened and note that time is running out.
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