Excellence not a necessary condition for employment

2014-08-04 00:00

LAST week, a human resource company called me to ask for a reference for one of my colleagues.

She is the senior administrator of Impumelelo Social Innovations Centre, highly competent, experienced and diligent, despite a lack of a matriculation certificate.

She has set up a meticulous book-keeping and filing system for the office, works on Pastel, has set up all kinds of systems for student intern recruitment, purchases, event management, and for organising workshops and master classes, frequent activities of Impumelelo.

I started the interview by saying: “Every office in South Africa, especially the Presidency, needs a Yasmina”. She is competent, she gets things done, she works hard, has a range of skills and is loyal. She has pulled herself up by her bootstraps to such an extent that I sent her to Harvard Kennedy School of Government for a month, to work with my counterpart there to help with the Innovations Portal. Subsequent to the interview, the company called her for an interview, but rejected her for the job because she had no matric, despite her competencies, and all the courses she attended over the years to hone her management and financial skills. Based on her experience, UWC gave her a conditional exemption for admission, although she did not pursue a degree. Apparently, all these qualifications are not enough for a job similar to or lower than her current job.

Yet when Hlaudi Motsoeneng was appointed chief operational officer of the SABC despite wide media coverage of his fraudulent qualifications, mismanagement and partiality towards the ruling party, his salary increased from R1,5 million to R2,4 million in one year. The minister of Telecommunications, Faith Muthambi, claims that a legal firm had cleared him of all wrongdoing despite the public protector’s report casting serious doubt on the charlatan’s character.

In the Department of Social Development, Sassa CEO Virginia Petersen emloyed one of her relatives as an intern, doubling the salary. She also employed a relative of Ebrahim Rasool’s, who lacks all the relevant qualifications, to a top position with a grossly inflated salary. And now we have President Jacob Zuma’s daughter, Thuthukile Zuma, kicked upstairs to the ministry of Telecommunications and Postal Services as chief of staff, at the age of 25, with a salary of R1 million a year. Granted she has degrees, but where is the relevant experience, especially in a ministry that is complex, mismanaged and riddled with corruption?

According to the Mail & Guardian, that position demands “extensive management experience, an understanding of ministerial services and parliamentary functions, to take charge of the overall management of the ministry, knowledge of the Public Service Management Framework and Public Finance Management Act”.

And this is the nub of the matter. Affirmative action appointments as part of the crony capitalism model, often eschew the need for qualifications and experience. That is why the auditor-general’s report of 2013 makes for horrendous reading. The sheer scale of the corruption, incompetence and national ineptitude of public officials is mind-boggling. Public service salaries are out of kilter with the qualifications or lack thereof of public servants. The question here is: what message are we sending to pupils and university students? Are we telling them that it is okay to cheat your way through life, that you will be promoted to top positions provided you are black and under-qualified, that education, skills, experience and qualifications no longer matter? Granted, many people excel without a matric, that is why candidates must be assessed holistically — not just on demographics!

• Rhoda Kadalie is the founder of the Gender Equity Unit and an executive director of Impumelelo Innovations Award Trust.

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