Barbara Hogan told the Zondo Commission into State Capture on Monday that there are now serious questions to ask about whether the ANC’s system of deployment still suits the current situation. She made the point that it may well have worked during the transition from apartheid after 1994, but in fact now poses dangers to the country. This is, she says, because if the deployment committee of the ANC is captured, then presumably dangers would follow for the entities that those people are appointed to.
It has never been a secret that the ANC has what it calls a “deployment committee”, a group of members of the national executive committee. This committee is usually chaired by the deputy president of the ANC. That makes its current chair David Mabuza. Before that, it was Cyril Ramaphosa, and before that, then deputy president Kgalema Motlanthe. Which means that in turn, now former president Jacob Zuma was also its chair. The ANC’s website may even have referred to the committee in its “Structures” section, but this cannot be verified at this moment, as the site is down due to Luthuli House’s non-payment to the service provider.
This committee would then decide who, for example, would run Transnet, or Eskom, or SAA, or any of the other big jobs that are technically in the gift of Cabinet. After most Cabinet meetings, a long list of appointments is attached. These are people appointed to the boards of various entities, and they would be discussed beforehand by the deployment committee. And it is through this system that someone like Siyabonga Gama, the subject of much of Hogan’s testimony, ended up being appointed as CEO of Transnet.
Gama himself was not found guilty of fraud or any criminal conduct. But he was found to have signed a contract with a company owned by then Communications Minister General (retd.) Siphiwe Nyanda. That contract was for an amount above the authority that Gama had at the time. There were also questions around another contract involving a company that received a contract for the repair of locomotives. Despite these issues, and despite Hogan’s insistence that there were better candidates for the job, Gama was appointed.
At the time, in 2011, it was an open secret that Gama was the choice of the ANC’s deployment committee. During this time, the journalist Karima Brown once confronted then-ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe during a press conference confirming that, long before the appointment was made, she knew the deployment committee had selected Gama. She was, of course, correct.
It can sometimes be forgotten how heated and politicised some of these issues became. In 2009, while Eskom was trying to deal with the first round of load shedding from 2008, it became embroiled in a massive fight over its then CEO Jacob Maroga. It became a straight-up spat between him and the Eskom board, then chaired by Bobby Godsell. The ANC Youth League at the time (you may remember the name of the leader…) and the Black Management Forum, attacked Godsell. The National Union of Minerworkers and others supported him. It became a huge political fight, with the result that Godsell resigned.
At the time, Eskom needed all the help it could get to keep the lights on in a sustainable way. It was a classic governance problem, where power stations needed to be built. And yet, politics appeared to get in the way of that.
Despite that, the ANC has staunchly defended cadre deployment at almost every turn. Mantashe was forced to defend it again and again. In 2011 he was forced to defend it not against attacks from the DA (which has consistently criticised the practice) but from IFP leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi. Buthelezi’s complaint then was that the people who were receiving important teaching jobs were those who were aligned to unions. Instead of being taken seriously, he was ignored. This may well be the underpinning for the criticisms that we now see of some of the outcomes of our schooling system.
The power to make appointments in this way may also have been used for simple ulterior purposes.
In 2006, when Helen Zille was able to form a coalition government in the City of Cape Town for the first time, she was confronted by the sight of Wallace Mgoqi as the City Manager. He had been appointed by the departing ANC administration, and was accused of trying to frustrate the new city administration’s governance. Eventually, after a tough fight, he was removed.
But it should not be forgotten that the ANC is of course not alone in this.
Now former DA mayor in Cape Town, Patricia de Lille, has been accused of trying to influence the process to appoint a new City Manager during her time in office. It would be hard to find differences between the ANC’s system, and what she was allegedly trying to do.
And there seems to be no doubt that should the Economic Freedom Fighters ever gain power over any aspect of governance, they would do exactly the same.
The question for the future of governance in South Africa boils down to this: Where is the line between political connectivity and competence, at what point are people appointed solely because of their competence, because they are viewed objectively as having the best qualifications and experience for the job, and when they are seen as the politically correct appointment.
There is surely no simple answer to this. When Zuma was criticised for appointing Des van Rooyen as Finance Minister in 2015, part of his defence was that Van Rooyen, at the time, was the “best-qualified” Finance Minister ever appointed. As Africa Check and others have explained, he was not wrong. But that alone may not stop many people from saying that Van Rooyen was still the wrong choice when compared to Nhlanhla Nene, Pravin Gordhan or Tito Mboweni.
Different countries have different answers to this problem; they draw the line in different places. In the US many positions are straight political appointments, all ambassadors resign immediately after the election of a new president, for example. In the case of the UK, the equivalent of our director-general, a permanent secretary, is an apolitical appointment. In some cases, these people have become so trusted that one of them, Cabinet Secretary Gus O’Donnell, chaired the talks that led to the formation of the coalition between the Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrats. In China, the Chinese Communist Party, which really supersedes the state in most aspects, would control the appointments.
Considering the at times divided and intense nature of our politics, coming to a solution to this, drawing the correct line as it were, is unlikely to be an easy thing to do. Because of our society and its inherent inequality, and lack of employment opportunities, and the way that patronage works, it will always be tempting for a party coming into power to use the policy of cadre deployment. But this can also increase a “winner takes all” tendency.
This means that politics could become less intense, and more about patronage and money over time. With the result that the stakes are heightened. There is some evidence that the spate of intra-ANC political killings in KwaZulu-Natal may be an indication of this. Those who lose political fights end up with nothing, which makes them fight much harder. This suggests then that resolving this issue is important for the future of the country. DM
"The wonder is not that the field of stars is so vast but that man has measured it." ~ Anatole France