Ivor Chipkin | Will President Ramaphosa be ready to stand up to the ANC's Ramaphosa?

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ANC President Cyril Ramaphosa.
ANC President Cyril Ramaphosa.
Simphiwe Nkwali, Gallo Images

Ivor Chipkin writes that corruption in government has happened because the ANC reproduced aspects of the homeland system and spread it across the state.

President Cyril Ramaphosa will testify at the Zondo commission, on the 28 and 29 April as ANC leader and on the 13 and 14 May as President of the country.

How will he deal with the contradiction that the commission has brought to the fore between these two roles? As President of the country, he presides over a crumbling state, in part, from the decisions he endorses as president of the party. 

This contradiction has been reported on in academic literature. In Gwede Mantashe's testimony, it was laid bare in public. 

Gwede Mantashe, the ANC's national chairperson, testified at the state capture commission on 14 April.

Carol Paton has written excellently about the "logical hole" in his account of "cadre deployment". She writes: 

"Asked by advocate Alec Freund whether he endorsed the principle of a non-political civil service, Mantashe's answer was an emphatic 'yes'. Asked next whether he saw a tension between this and a civil service staffed by people loyal and accountable to the ANC, as envisaged by the ANC deployment policy, Mantashe’s response was an emphatic 'no'."

This ambiguity is at the heart of many of South Africa's acute problems. Are public servants accountable to their superiors in the administrative hierarchy, or are they responsible to Luthuli House? More commonly, accountability falls between stools; that is, public servants are accountable to no one. 

Professionalising the public service requires a clear distinction between political office and administrative office and separate processes for appointing, promoting and holding persons accountable. Mantashe conceded that once a government official, an individual had to operate according to departmental rules, regulations and norms and not those of the party. It seems pretty straightforward. 

Why does the ANC insist on a practice that muddies the water and is probably the single most significant cause of government failure? Why, that is, does it shoot itself in the foot continuously? 

READ | Analysis: Mantashe's disquiet about Zondo commission misplaced

Freund, who questioned Mantashe so methodically, suggested that cadre deployment was not just logically flawed, but also a disaster from the point of view of governance. He proposed that it was illegal too. The Constitution requires that the public service is "non-partisan". 

"But the problem I want to put to you is that there is a conflict between the principles of a non-partisan public service and a public service which as a matter of strategy is populated […] by persons loyal to the party."

Mantashe's answer was to move away from the law to the terrain of history and politics. 

It was absurd, insisted Mantashe, to demand non-partisanship when the state in South Africa itself was not neutral.

"Dr Verwoerd," Mantashe explained, "was instilling a system of apartheid which had such deep roots that it would be impossible for future governments to change. Until you get involved you do not realise the depths of those roots."

Strategic positions

To undo this legacy, the ANC wanted to "have people in strategic positions in the state who understand its policies […] and who will be loyal to executing" (my emphasis). 

In other words, the ANC believes that politicising the public service is a condition of service delivery. Put another way; it is necessary to politicise the public service to overcome in-built resistance in the state to ANC policies. Government failure is not caused by cadre deployment, but by the conservatism of a state that has not been adequately transformed. 

On these terms, cadre deployment is not a shot in the foot, but a shot in the arm - a necessary injection into the body of the state to fight apartheid tendencies. 

The problem, however, is that this analysis is neither sufficiently historical nor adequately political.

READ | Mondli Makhanya: Why ANC can't fight corruption

Mantashe suggests that a key characteristic of the apartheid state was that white, Afrikaans men staffed it. This is definitely the case. When the ANC came to power in 1994, black people in the public service, excluding nurses and teachers, were mainly in manual labour roles. There were almost no black people in senior management. By 1995, the situation had changed dramatically, and by 2005, 75% of all senior managers were black. Today the figure is much higher. Many of these appointments come from the ranks of teachers and nurses.  

Racial discrimination and inequality were not the only legacies of Verwoerd, however. By the end of the apartheid period, South Africa had been fragmented into several homeland states. They may have lacked legitimacy as states, but they did not lack substance as entities.  

Altogether, 480 000 homeland officials entered provincial administrations after 1994, contributing almost 70% of the public service at that level. In Limpopo, it was largely former homeland officials, especially from Lebowa, that took up these positions. In the Eastern Cape, most new provincial government officials were drawn from former Transkei and Ciskei administrations.

These two homelands had almost gone to war, and the relations between their administrations were tense to start with. Much of the instability and dysfunctionality of the provincial administration in the Eastern Cape has its origin in the unresolved conflicts arising from this process of territorial consolidation after 1994. 

Patrimonial systems

Even if there were signs of modernisation in some homelands (Bophuthatswana, for example), homeland civil services were largely patrimonial. In other words, decisions were made, and resources allocated based on personal ties and connections rather than according to policy. 

At the same time that the homelands were being reintegrated back into South Africa, the ANC decided to become a mass organisation. Membership rose from just over 385 000 in 1997 to over 1.2 million by June 2012. Many of these new party members were drawn from the ranks of the old homeland administrations.

In effect, ANC practices in government saw the diffusion of homeland networks and organisational cultures through the post-apartheid state. Cadre deployment may have helped overcome one apartheid legacy while it compounded another. 

What the state capture commission has revealed is the decay of South Africa's system of government. Contracts are awarded, and decisions are made, not based on policy or in the strategic interest of departments or agencies, but mainly based on personal ties. This has happened because the ANC has reproduced aspects of the homeland system and spread it across the state. To break this cycle and professionalise the public service, Cyril Ramaphosa, as President of the Republic, will need to stand up to Cyril Rampahosa, President of the party. 

- Ivor Chipkin is the Director of the Government and Public Policy Think-Tank (GAPP). GAPP is hosting a major conference on ‘Kickstarting Public Service Reform’ on the 28 and 29 April. 

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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