Association of Former Directors-General launched to address scourge of corruption and bolster governance
In 2016, while South Africa was in the throes of State Capture, and since then during the great untangling, a group of former directors-general of national and provincial government departments came together to see if they could play a role in stopping the rot. On Tuesday they launched themselves as a formal organisation that aims to ‘assist in building a capable state for all the people of South Africa’.
This week saw the formal launch of the Association of Former Directors-General (AfDG) at a meeting attended by an influential alumnus of the Republic of South Africa Inc, as well as several key guardians of government who are still in office, including the Auditor-General Tsakani Maluleke and the Chair of the Public Service Commission Richard Sizani.
In his opening address Reverend Frank Chikane — described by his peers as ‘the DG of DGs’ — warned that “The challenges ahead are getting tougher, but not insurmountable.” He lamented the “convergence of corrupt politicians and public servants with the underground criminal world” noting “the emergence of assassinations such as that of Babita Deokaran and those taking place in KZN.”
Chikane linked criminality to the collapse of basic services such as electricity. “All this raises questions about the capacity of the state to govern and assert its sovereign authority.” He added that if it wasn’t reversed “at the speed of light” South Africa would become a failed state.
“There is a need to crowd out the bad and create safe working spaces for honest public servants.”
In the early days of SA’s democracy, said Chikane, there was corruption, but it came mainly from old order officials who had remained in government. “To begin with, corrupt officials feared honest officials, but today it’s the other way round.”
Chikane said that President Cyril Rampahosa has been briefed on the initiative. “But we are an independent association. We have a code of ethics that all members must subscribe to.”
When it was formed in 2016 the group was initially made up of 28 former DGs who had held office mainly during the Mandela and Mbeki Administrations. One of their first actions, in May 2016, had been to draft a memorandum (titled ‘The Voice of Reason: Save the Public Service from State Capture’) which they submitted to the Executive outlining their concerns, and offering to play a role in returning ethics, professionalism and capacity to the public service.
The memo stated that “this was not a party political initiative” but “based on constitutional and democratic values.” Unsurprisingly, it was not acknowledged by the then Zuma Presidency.
Since 2016, having recognised the crisis and corruption that pervaded the public service and the State more generally, the group have been engaged in various initiatives to build what they call “a capable developmental state”.
Today the AfDG has expanded to 40 members “and is growing”. All members say they “adhere to the values of integrity, honesty and transparency.”
Signalling support for the initiative in the upper echelons of government, the virtual launch was also attended by Phindile Baleni, the Director General in The Presidency. Baleni said she would like to “count on the association as a form of advisory council to the Presidency.”
On his part, Richard Sizani, the Chair of PSC, said he would like to see some former DGs apply to become PSC Commissioners based on their experience and skills.
Visioning a state that serves the people
At Tuesday’s launch, the AfDG’s interim committee was confirmed.
Its heavy-hitting committee is made up of:
- Rev Frank Chikane (DG in the Presidency under Thabo Mbeki),
- Dr Ayanda Ntsaluba (former DG of both Health and Dirco),
- Crispian Olver (former DG for the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism),
- Adv Vusi Pikoli (former DG in the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development),
- Dipak Patel (former DG of the Department of Transport),
- Bongiwe Njobe (former DG at the Department of Agriculture Forestry & Fisheries),
- Pamela Yako (former DG Environmental Affairs and Tourism) and
- Zwelibanzi Mntambo (former DG of Gauteng).
Other notables present at the launch included former DGs Rob Adam, Moe Shaik, Alistair Reuters, Ketso Gordhan and Sipho Pityana.
The group said that over the last two years they have “made individual and ad hoc contributions to various government processes” but believe that “the conditions now require a more active and constructive support for public administration and public service reform.”
Establishing the AfDGs represents the adoption of a more formal organisational approach that, they hope, will provide a mechanism for providing support.
Their aim is to enable adherence to principles of accountability and transparency through “a more structured relationship in its interactions with the state.” The AfDGs specifically identifies working with institutions like the National School of Government and the Public Service Commission to help reestablish ethical and constitutional governance.
The founding resolution adopted says the specific purpose of the AfDGs is to:
- “Contribute to the professionalisation of the public service;
- “Support broader public sector reform” and
- “Assist in building a capable state for all the people of South Africa.”
Bongiwe Njobe recalled the early days of democratic government which she described as a “school” and the idealism of the earliest DGs. She described the challenges facing the AfDGs as ensuring integrity, independence of thought, inclusivity and its own longevity as an institution that could mentor good government.
Ayanda Ntsaluba echoed this saying that “It’s the institution we are trying to build, not the individuals in it. We want it to be a repository of institutional knowledge. We want to avail ourselves to share our failures and mistakes, so that new leaders can avoid repeating them.”
“We understand the enormity of the task and we have humility to understand that wrong judgement can sometimes be to do with honest intention.”
Citing former President Mbeki, Ntsaluba said that “clean audits and running an effective department are the basics; the most important is to be agents of change.” DM/MC
The current members of the AfDG include:
- Mogopodi Mokoena
- Sandile Nogxina
- Mavuso Msimang
- Khaya Ngema
- Thozamile Botha
- Glen Sonwabo Thomas
- Sipho Pityana
- Geoff Budlender
- Ketso Gordhan
- Zavareh Rustomjee
- Mike Muller
- Vusi Pikoli
- Masiphula Mbongwa
- Paseka Ncholo
- Frank Chikane
- Bongiwe Njobe
- Ayanda Ntsaluba
- Dipak Patel
- Pam Yako
- Crispian Olver
- Barry Gilder
- Martin van Zyl
- Pali Lehohla
- Sipho Shezi
- Moe Shaik
- Itumeleng Mosala
- Sivi Gounden
- Gibson Njenje
- Alistair Ruiters
- Leila Patel
- Mpumi ZamaZwide Mpofu