Guest Column

Loyalty to factions vs the state: A blurring of lines

2019-04-07 07:00
Nomvula Mokonyane (Sapa)

Nomvula Mokonyane (Sapa)

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For years now, many have raised the fundamental flaws inherent in the ANC's system of cadre deployment into high-level strategic positions in government, writes Calvin Matlou.

The separation between state and the ruling party in South Africa exists in theory, but, in reality, the line is as clear as a line drawn in water.

Cadre deployment and hiring of public servants based on political party allegiance have created situations in which loyalty to certain leaders or party trumps loyalty to the Constitution of the country.

The published report by the High-Level Review Panel into the State Security Agency (SSA), revealing damning evidence of how the agency was repurposed to serve the political interests of former president Jacob Zuma and his cronies within the ANC, has highlighted glaring failures by government officials to distinguish between the interests of the state and the ruling ANC.

READ: From Mandela to Mbeki and Zuma - How to spooks became obsessed with 'political intelligence gathering'

Alarmingly, the report reveals how a few elements in positions of authority were able to disregard their constitutional obligations to serve and promote the interests of the republic in favour of factional interests, quite at odds with those of the general public.

For years now, many have raised the fundamental flaws inherent in the ANC's system of cadre deployment into high-level strategic positions in government. A common refrain has been the tendency by those in charge to deploy cadres they can control and who feel duty-bound to serve the interests of their political sponsors to cement their stay in their positions.

Over the years, there have been reports of ministers getting involved in the appointment of lower level employees. Former minister Faith Muthambi was found to have flouted several public service regulations by making irregular appointments and ordering salary hikes for officials.

It should be stated that this is not something that started in the Zuma era; it existed long before the ANC came into power in 1994. Political office bearers have always used state resources to reward or buy loyalty. The government, with its vast resources, has always been the easiest route to buying or securing loyalty and maintaining power over certain individuals or groups. It is done through appointments to high-paying positions or allocation of tenders.

A lot of politicians in South Africa have been shown to be loyal not only to their political parties first but also to their pockets, with the public and the state coming in a distant third. We all remember Jacob Zuma's assertion in Parliament that the ANC comes before the state. It can be said that his assertion rings true for many leaders within the ruling party. Think of ministers such as Nomvula Mokonyane, who allegedly exercised their influence in government to the benefit of Bosasa over meat packs and donations to the ANC. Some public servants seem to have taken a cue from their principals and have sought to play the political and personal gain game to the detriment of the state they are meant to serve.

Perhaps the fact that our leaders in government do not take seriously their vows to act in the best interests of the country and protect the Constitution at all times is a signal to those below them that if they do not care, why should they?

Well, they should care. Politicians' terms in government do end at some point, and ordinary public servants will be left to clean up their mess. In that case, is it not better to prevent the mess from happening in the first place than to spend time and energy trying to clean up something that could have been prevented in the first place?

It is also worth noting that the vast majority of public servants are honest, hardworking people who are determined to serve the South African public under sometimes difficult circumstances.

It is unclear how deep the networks built by Jacob Zuma and his cronies go; therefore, clean-up efforts instituted by President Cyril Ramaphosa may not fully eradicate years of decay in state institutions.

All is not lost, however. The current commissions of inquiry are doing well to expose the level of rot that has infected various state institutions. One hopes that measures will be put in place to not only undo the mess we find ourselves in, but also prevent such rot setting into our government in future.

It is high time public servants realised that a dysfunctional state will have a negative effect on them as well and that being on the side of the Constitution is better than serving individuals or factional interests.

- Calvin Matlou is an advisor at Frontline Africa Advisory.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

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