South Africa

South Africa

Cadre deployment, cronyism and the paving of SA’s highway to hell

Cadre deployment, cronyism and the paving of SA’s highway to hell

The ANC’s policy of cadre deployment and political patronage for party loyalty has been extremely beneficial for Luthuli House, its elites and party loyalists. But outside that circle of benefaction, ANC cronyism has had catastrophic consequences for the rest of us. By MANDY DE WAAL.

“Concerns about ANC deployment of cadres unfounded.” Sounds like something Gwede Mantashe might have said a couple of days ago, but actually this “cadre deployment” denial is circa 1999 and was penned by former Mbeki spin man Smuts Ngonyama?the same Ngonyama that left Luthuli House after the Cope break away happened. Ngonyama is still spinning, but now he’s now promising anyone who’ll listen that the beleaguered COPE will rise from the ashes like a phoenix.

Yes, Mantashe did come out to defend cadre deployment a couple of days ago, something the ANC does on a fairly regular basis. This occasion specific was after the auditor general revealed fairly embarrassing municipal audits. The country collectively cringed when the AG revealed that only 5% of municipalities received clean audits for 2010/2011. No metros received clean audits and 13% of municipalities didn’t even bother to give their financial statements in on time. 

The Federation of Unions of SA pointed its finger at cadre deployment, to which Mantashe’s response was “you’ve got to be kidding me”. Well, more or less. “The blackmail of thinking that cadreship is a sin is something that we should not entertain. “To be a cadre of a movement is not a sin,” Mantashe declared. “Opponents of cadre deployment… they confuse it with wrong deployment. It’s not the same.”

The cadre deployment debate is hardly new, and rears its ugly head fairly frequently, but seems to be gathering momentum as the effects of ANC cronyism become more visible because of rampant maladministration and the squandering of resources. As points of government service (like municipalities) collapse, critics of the ruling party put the blame on cadre deployment.

The ANC’s “Cadre Policy and Deployment Strategy” has its genesis in an ANC document called “The National Democratic Revolution?Is it still on track?” penned by Joel Netshitenzhe, which was published in an ANC booklet called Umrabulo in 1996.

Once an extremely powerful strategist, Netshitenzhe served in both the Mandela and Mbeki governments. He headed the policy unit in the presidency and reported directly to Mbeki, who back Netshitenzhe in the ANC succession race pre-Polokwane. 

But when Zuma entered the presidency, Netshitenzhe was unceremoniously downgraded. A strategic thinker revered for his intelligence, Mbeki’s right hand policy man was made to report to a nebulous Director General. In any organisation that’s the kind of downgrade that that tells you it’s time to pack your cardboard box and go. Once considered by analysts as one of the most powerful men in South Africa, Netshitenzhe subsequently founded the Mapungubwe Institute for Strategic Reflection and sits on the National Planning Commission.

Laden with Lenin-like lingo (or as Clem Sunter would saydead white Russian speak), Netshitenzhe writes about a “National Democratic Revolution” which he defines as a “process of struggle that seeks the transfer of power to the people.” Netshitenzhe defines power for the purpose of this policy as political, social and economic control.

The document speaks about mobilising forces to achieve this “National Democratic Revolution”. “The first and most visible act of any revolution is that of the transfer of political power,” Mbeki’s former policy aide wrote. “This entails taking control of the state machinery and introducing new political and social relations”

Netshitenzhe describes this as a long process, and said the check to see whether this is accomplished lies in assessing the ANC’s interests in the “balance of forces in various centres of state power and power in general”. The six areas of power the ANC is required to saturate for this revolution to be affected are the Constitution; parliament and the legislatures; governance; the state machinery or civil service; economic relations; and the content and depth of SA’s public discourse.

Netshitenzhe’s assessment of the ANC’s infiltration of those six centres of power. “The issue of strategic deployments and entry of, for instance, black graduates, in relation to all these structures, including the civil service, the army, police and intelligence services, have not been given the critical attention that they need,” he wrote.

Whether it is cadre deployment, cronyism or just plain old nepotism, there’s nothing new or innovative about the Netshitenzhe’s policy of favours for ANC party loyalists. Examples are found everywhere including in Putin’s Russia and, of course, in Greece. Silvio Berlusconi’s Italy is an obvious example of how political cronyism can destroy an economy, and cronyism is the current hot spot in the war of words between US President Barak Obama and his Republican rival, Mitt Romney. 

It’s the plague that’s scaring off donor funding in Afghanistan, and is said to be the cause of the Olympics security mess. Even Finland, with its long-term squeaky-clean reputation, has a problem with what it calls “the old boys networks”. In short cronyism is a global disease from which few (if any) economies are immune. 

David Henderson, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution and editor of The Fortune Encyclopedia of Economics, describes cronyism as the substitution of political influence for free markets. “It comes about when government has a lot of power over private-sector decisions and when the government officials in power have great discretion over how to use it,” he said.

“Cronyism is not simply a zero-sum game that takes from some and gives to others; it is negative-sum,” Henderson warned. “The losses to the losers substantially outweigh the gains to the winners. In short, cronyism destroys wealth.

“By shifting power to government, cronyism makes political power more important and increases the competition for that political power,” he explained in defining the difference between free markets and cronyism in his paper The Economics and History of Cronyism.

“In short, cronyism plays favourites,” Henderson added, describing how cronyism destroys wealth. “Sometimes it destroys large amounts of wealth in the process of giving relatively small amounts of wealth to chosen parties. This is distinct from free markets. In every free-market transaction, both buyer and seller gain or they would not engage in the transaction.”

Back home, the ANC’s perversion of the free market ideals starts with cadre deployment, and extends to the distribution of government resources to party loyalists, friends and family by these deployed cadres. 

An assessment of governance in South Africa by civil society researchers and activists for the African Peer Review Mechanism Monitoring Project outlined how the cadre deployment strategy was put in place. “It was codified in the late 1990s as a means to take control of the ‘levers of power’, including the judiciary, public broadcaster, civil service and the security forces,” it found. 

“Cadre deployment should not be seen merely as appointing people with political affiliations.

Rather, it suggests something more fundamental: an attempt to circumvent official processes by effectively assigning certain appointments to party ‘deployment committees’, or to the party leadership. Official processes may be followed, but the outcome is presumably predetermined. The deployee is then expected to carry out the ANC’s wishes in the position.”

The document quoted disgraced former ANC spokesperson Carl Niehaus as saying that after a deployment by the ruling party there was “an expectation that the party line and leadership should be followed blindly, and that the judicial and democratic institutions of the state should merely be instruments to carry out ANC policy”. 

Transparency, obviously, is no outcome of cadre employment. “It is impossible for outsiders to monitor this process, since it is happening within the confines of a private entity, a political party. It is not clear how widespread this practice is. However, cadre deployment is taking place and at no point has the ANC ever repudiated it. The ANC speaks openly of cadre deployment in principle, although it is less forthcoming about specifically identifying deployed ‘cadres’.”

The document, which serves as an assessment of local governance by the South African Institute of International Affairs, the Centre for Policy Studies and the Africa Governance Monitoring and Advocacy Project, includes a civic society rating for, among other things, ANC-state relations. 

SA gets a red light (which signals a problem) for separation between the ANC and government, a red light for the regulation of private funding to political parties and another red light for cadre deployment and the politicisation of institutions.

Mantashe believes there is nothing sinful in cadre deployment, and if you’re looking at the issue from the perspective of it buoying ANC power, he’s got a point. Given that politics is all about the application of power and influence, cadre deployment becomes the favour with which binding loyalty is secured. Who would bite the hand that feeds?

Academics who write about cronyism speak about its prevalence in paternalistic and collectivist environments and in systems where a class of elites give favours to subordinates in exchange for loyalty. The elite retain their privilege, the subordinates only get favours or access to that privilege (or resource) if they show indebtedness and obligation. And so cronyism becomes a system of dependencies where meritocracy is sacrificed on the altar of nationalism and blind loyalty.

The results are catastrophic: instead of building a vibrant, robust democracy, crony capitalism builds a feudal like fealty where the elites have everything, those near the elites fight for access to resources and everyone else in the party is favoured by their relationship to the elites and near elites, or their loyalty.

And if allegiance is to the ruling party and not to the state enterprise, or local municipality or whatever other structures cadres are deployed in, how can accountability be affected or enforced? The answer is to be found in an official document called The State of Local Government (2009) which reads: “A culture of patronage and nepotism is now so widespread in many municipalities that the formal municipal accountability system is ineffective and inaccessible to many citizens.”

In other words, cadre deployment has killed service delivery and destroyed the ruling party’s ability to deliver on the very mandate that brought it to power. Worst of all it has created a deafening silence because the corrupt are muted by greed and the dependent are stilled by fear. The only screams of protest are from the impoverished – those who have nothing to lose. DM

Read more:

  • Competing identities of a National Liberation Movement and the challenges of incumbency by Joel Netshitenzhe 
  • Can ANC move from diagnosis to cure? by Lucy Holborn on IOL 
  • SA’s cadre ambassadors: Something to worry about? In Mail & Guardian 
  • South Africa: a progress report on the BBC 
  • Report castigates cadre deployment in municipalities in Mail & Guardian


  • Research on cronyism at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University 

Photo by Reuters


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