Allister Sparks

Beware the centralisation of incompetent power

2015-07-08 09:25

Allister Sparks

The Farlam Report on the Marikana massacre has put its finger on what is perhaps the single most important reason why our country is falling into such a comprehensive mess. It is because President Jacob Zuma has a singular inability to appoint the right people into key government jobs.

Three years ago he appointed Mangwashi Victoria Phiyega, better known as Riah Phiyega, commissioner of police. She knew absolutely nothing about policing, but overnight she was promoted from rookie to general in charge of the entire South African Police Service (SAPS).

Two months later she was in that hot seat when police opened fire on striking mineworkers at the Lonmin platinum mine at Marikana, killing 34 of them.

Now the Farlam Report has implied that she should never have been given the job in the first place because "she has no policy experience whatsoever". The report states that she had none of the training, experience or skills required to deal with the situation she faced at Marikana.

So why did Zuma appoint her? It is not a new question. It was asked by every political commentator at the time, one of whom I recall saying prophetically that "this matter can only end in tears".

Well, the tears are now flowing copiously, not only for the dead of Marikana, 44 in all, but for the future of the beloved country as a whole. Because this matter of appointing people who are not qualified for the jobs they are given is a recurring feature of the Zuma administration.

They are chosen not for their skills but for their personal loyalty to Number One; or in an attempt to balance the warring factions in the ruling alliance; or to balance racial or gender quotas; or just to keep a rotational process going to prevent hostile cliques from forming.

Capability for the job at hand comes last on the list, if it features at all.

The real problem with this is that it coincides with an obsession that has emerged within the ANC since the retirement of Nelson Mandela to control everything at all levels of government.

As Alex Boraine, that ardent anti-apartheid activist who ended up as deputy chairperson of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, notes in his excellent book, What's Gone Wrong?, the party has now superseded the state as the supreme body controlling all that happens in the country, and that it is determined to control absolutely everything.

"Control is almost a fetish," he writes. "It is not sufficient to control Members of Parliament; even mayors have to have their sanction, provincial Premiers are elected by Luthuli House, all those who hold any office at all are under very tight supervision. . . Nothing happens without rigid control and deployment to ensure that loyal cadres are in place. The aim remains the exercise of power at every level."

Indeed it goes even further than that. It appears the ANC's National Executive Committee (NEC) now ranks higher that the Cabinet, to the point where the secretary-general of the party, Gwede Mantashe, feels able publicly to reprimand  Police Minister Nathi Nhleko for his "reckless" statement about wanting more public money spent on Nkandla. Cabinet ministers are accountable to the elected Parliament; the party's NEC is not.

That kind of centralised control, which the Soviets used to call "democratic centralism," may work in a country like China, or even a one-party capitalist state like Singapore, where high emphasis is placed on skills and putting the right people in the right slots. It is not democratic but it can produce economic results.

But when appropriate skills are at the bottom of a regime's priority list and personal loyalty is at the top, there can be no upside.

To be obsessed with controlling everything is bad enough, but when you combine that with an inability to run anything successfully; what I would call the centralisation of incompetence, then you are on a slippery slope to a failed state.

That, I believe, is the warning signal the Farlam Report has sent to the citizens of this country.

When the president of a country as turbulent as South Africa, with all its disruptive history, cannot see that a woman trained as a social worker is unlikely to make the best available police chief; when even we lowly journalists could see that on day one, then surely it is time for all citizens to take note.

For them to realise it is time for a change of leadership, and a change of political culture with it. Jacob Zuma, the man ultimately responsible for the tragedy of Marikana, must go.

To a degree I feel sorry for General Phiyega. She is a well educated woman, well qualified in her field, which is social work. She has a BA degree from the University of the North, an MA from the University of Johannesburg and a diploma in business administration from the University of Cardiff in Wales. But she has no knowledge at all of anything to do with police work.

So why did she accept the job? If someone were to offer me the job of chief executive officer of a big industrial corporation about which I knew absolutely nothing, there is no way I would accept it - because, as that columnist said, I would know it could only end in tears.

And why, after the excoriating report by the Farlam Commission, does Phiyega still hang in there? City Press reported ten days ago that she was determined not to leave without a fight; that she feels "hurt" and "down" because she had been head of the police service for only two months when the massacre occurred.

General Phiyega, did you feel you should have been allowed time to learn on the job, how to be a General in charge of a militarised police force of several hundred thousand personnel, all armed with the power to kill? Like an apprenticeship, sort of.

And what are you preparing to fight for now General, during this interregnum before your inevitable departure. For your honour?

If that were your primary concern, I would suggest you retire right now. After the Farlam's finding that you knew about and allowed a plan by your senior officers to hide evidence from the commission, and together with the commissioner of North West Privince, Zukiswa Mbobo, agreed to take inappropriate political issues into consideration when deciding what to do at Marikana, that would be the honourable thing to do.

It would show that you respected the principle of accountability and enable you to walk away with some dignity from a job you should never have accepted, and return to the social work for which you are so eminently qualified.

Or is it simply that you want to negotiate for the highest golden handshake you can get? Something like the R17m that the most recent of the many National Directors of Public Prosecutions walked away with the other day?

As for Jacob Zuma? Ja-well-no-fine. Don't expect him to do anything.


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