Degrees of competence

2018-11-28 16:28
Clive Ndou.

Clive Ndou.

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The DA KwaZulu-Natal caucus’s decision to back recommendations on minimum qualifications for political office bearers did not only put the party’s chief whip John Steenhuisen on the spot, it has helped ignite a national debate.

DA provincial caucus leader Zwakele Mncwango, who has come under fire from some party leaders for the decision to support the recommendations by the Independent Commission for the Remuneration of Public Office Bearers, is adamant that politicians should possess minimum qualifications if they want to occupy certain positions in public office.

On the other hand, Steenhuisen, who it has emerged only has a matric certificate, is of the view that the recommendations are unconstitutional as they have the potential to limit the participation of citizens with no such qualification in public life.

It is a well-known fact that Mncwango and Steenhuisen, who hails from KZN, have a frosty relationship.

The poor relations between the two politicians have led to some, particularly within the DA, viewing the provincial caucus’s decision as a direct hit at Steenhuisen, who would be forced to vacate his position should the recommendation be approved.

While it is true that Steenhuisen would be directly affected should the recommendations see the light of day, reducing the issue around the need for public office bearers to have qualification to personalities is unhelpful.

In a country where most of those occupying public office have proved to be perennial underperformers, any contribution that would assist in ensuring that the right people are put in the right positions should be welcomed.

If putting in place mechanisms that would improve the government’s performance means that Steenhuisen would have to be reduced to a back bencher, then so be it.

In any case, Steenhuisen, who is hailed by his colleagues in the DA national caucus as being knowledgeable and a hard worker, is yet to explain why he has not been able to study further.

Unlike former president Jacob Zuma, who could not go to school because poverty prevented it, one cannot imagine anything preventing Steenhuisen from furthering his studies, particularly in light of the fact that he is young and also has the financial means to enrol for tertiary studies.

Yes, it is true that there are certain individuals out there, including Steenhuisen and Zuma, who despite a lack of advanced education appear to possess a natural talent to grasp complex matters.

However, the fact of the matter is that such people are a small minority, with the bulk of the population needing to complement their natural talents with a formal education in order to perform well in whatever career they have chosen.

It is indeed also true that attaching minimum qualification requirements to political positions such as chief whips, mayors and ministers, could inconvenience the majority of citizens who have a passion for politics but for some reasons do not possess any qualifications.

However, the inconvenience should be weighed against the benefits that will flow to South Africans, including those who have not been fortunate enough to advance their studies, should competent and qualified people be deployed to leadership positions in state institutions.

It is true that placing an educated person in public office does not give citizens the assurance that the bearer will not underperform, engage in corrupt activities or abuse power.

Not far from our borders we have former Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe, who despite being one of the most educated African leaders, mismanaged his country’s economy to the point of reducing what was once Africa’s bread basket to a basket case.

On the other hand, the world is replete with examples of less-educated heads of state who, despite their lack of proper education, served their citizens well, grew their country’s economies and championed programmes that deepened democracy.

But these two realities cannot and should not be used to advance the argument that people without qualifications should be able to be appointed to critical positions that make a difference to the quality of life of an entire citizenry.

Instead of shifting the focus, politicians should view Mncwango and the DA KZN provincial caucus as a challenge for bearers of public office to acquire new skills and in the process became role models to citizens, many of whom are wallowing in poverty due to a lack of qualifications.

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  opinion and analysis

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