What the ANC deployment committee minutes reveal about how the party works
As a result of litigation from the DA, minutes from the ANC’s deployment committee meetings between 2018 and 2020 have been made public. Perhaps most worrying is the revelation that the ruling party discusses Chapter 9 appointments and judges to be selected — seemingly undermining the independence required for these crucial decisions.
The minutes of the ANC’s deployment committee meetings reveal the party’s determination to ensure that key state positions are filled by approved individuals, and that such individuals meet gender and race criteria.
The 58 pages of minutes, recording meetings held between 2018 and 2020, show the ANC’s committee deliberating over individuals to fill positions in entities ranging from the Nuclear Energy Board to the Road Accident Fund, as well as top posts in government departments.
The existence of the deployment committee, which is headed by Deputy President David Mabuza and was previously helmed by Cyril Ramaphosa when he was deputy president, is no secret.
More controversial is the DA’s claim that the minutes clearly prove the committee prioritises “party cadres rather than qualified and independent professionals”.
There is indeed some evidence from the minutes to suggest that loyalty to the ANC is considered when the committee is appraising candidates. When the committee discussed the composition of the Nuclear Energy Board on 3 December 2018, for instance, it was noted that the recommended chair and board members were all ANC members.
But that is the sole explicit mention of party membership, or ANC loyalty, within the minutes. References to candidates possessing the necessary skills, experience and CVs are far more frequent. At a meeting to discuss Department of International Relations and Cooperation (Dirco) candidates in August 2019, moreover, the minutes specifically warn against flooding the department with “political appointments” rather than career diplomats.
At other points, however, the committee seems most intent on ensuring diversity of gender, race, age and other identity criteria among candidates. When seeking to appoint commissioners for the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities, for instance, the committee noted that the previous nominees were drawn too heavily from evangelical churches rather than “mainstream churches or the non-Christian religions”. For another board, persons from the Eastern Cape were felt to be over-represented.
Some candidates are endorsed or rejected for more subjective — and sometimes opaque — reasons. The previous Municipal Demarcation Board is criticised in the minutes for being “rigid” and “not as rational as it should be”. Former Sanral boss Nazir Alli has “proven to be dogmatic” and should be removed. With regards to PetroSA, there is an intriguing reference to a “cheeky HR specialist” and “disruptive” unions.
In 2019, it appeared that some Cabinet ministers were going rogue in making appointments and needed to be brought back in line.
“The committee is dependent on the cooperation and respect for process that includes the Deployment Committee by the Ministers serving in Cabinet,” the minutes sternly noted on 8 March 2019, adding that a workshop would be held after the elections with new ministers and premiers to address “the general misunderstanding of the concept of democratic centralism”.
Those words seem to have fallen on deaf ears when it comes to Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan, who in January 2020 was hauled over the coals for apparently making an unspecified appointment without consulting the deployment committee.
“The committee made it known to the Minister that he must follow the correct procedure of informing the committee before any appointments of such are made,” the minutes record.
In May of the same year, the then finance minister, Tito Mboweni, appears to have fallen foul of the committee in the same way when it came to staffing the Public Investment Corporation and the South African Special Risk Insurance Association (Sasria).
“Process had not been followed, however, the candidates recommended were diverse, skilled and experienced,” the minutes note. “The committee on those grounds allowed the two items to process.”
In June 2020, it was Ramaphosa himself in the committee’s bad books, with Ramaphosa apologising for having appointed the Presidential State-Owned Enterprises Council without the involvement of the deployment committee — but explaining “that it was an omission due to the pressure”.
At the same meeting, Dirco Minister Naledi Pandor also had to commit to working “more closely” with the deployment committee.
Although it’s not quite clear to what degree the DA is justified in accusing the ANC of selecting candidates based on party loyalty rather than skill, the opposition party is on safer ground when it comes to criticising two revelations in particular, emanating from the minutes.
The first is the fact that the deployment committee can be witnessed discussing candidates for bodies like the South African Human Rights Commission and the Commission for Gender Equality, which are Chapter 9 institutions. This means that they are supposed to be independent bodies “subject only to the Constitution and the law”, and “no person or organ of state may interfere with the functioning of these institutions”.
The second is that the ANC deployment committee on at least one occasion (22 March 2019) is recorded as deliberating over judicial appointments. In this meeting, former justice minister Michael Masutha is recorded as briefing the committee on various judicial vacancies — to be considered by the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) a few days later — and the committee then makes recommendations on its preferred candidates.
One can assume that the ANC members of the JSC proceed to advocate for these candidates accordingly when the judge selection body carries out its own deliberations.
As Judges Matter campaigners Alison Tilley and Mbekezeli Benjamin have pointed out in a Daily Maverick op-ed, this is not totally unexpected. It is likely that the JSC representatives from other political parties are similarly given instructions before the body meets.
But, write Tilley and Benjamin, “Only the ANC has been named as using a high-level political structure to do so, and then instructing members of the JSC accordingly.” They suggest that in general the JSC should be reformed to reduce the influence of political parties in appointing judges.
Tilley and Benjamin also note, however, that the ANC deployment committee’s recommendations for judges at this time actually almost all failed. They also stress that regardless of the deployment committee’s activities, the sitting president has sole discretion on who to appoint as a judge — and in at least one case Ramaphosa defied the committee’s recommendation.
“The minutes from the ANC’s deployment committee meeting are shocking in the brazen way that they discuss appointment to strategic positions in the government and other important institutions like the judiciary, Chapter 9 institutions and state-owned companies,” the two legal campaigners write.
But they caution that the DA has slightly over-egged the pudding in its expressions of outrage, given that the deployment committee did not actually succeed in placing all its preferred judges in this instance.
In general, what the minutes suggest is the ANC’s increasingly desperate attempt to maintain a creaky centralised politburo which — other than being undemocratic — seems archaic, inefficient and ill-suited to the needs of a chaotically expanding modern country. One can imagine the frustration of Cabinet ministers and department officials needing to make speedy appointments on having to report fortnightly to this committee and sit through lengthy deliberations on every candidate for every significant public sector position in the country.
But the minutes are in one sense relatively benign, simply given the historical period they cover. As the DA has rightly pointed out, what we really need to see are the minutes for the Zuma era — during which period our current president oversaw the decisions of that committee. DM
Daily Maverick was informed on Thursday by ANC legal adviser Krish Naidoo that the minutes were incorrectly released, in circumstances that are still unclear, as the ANC continues to challenge the DA’s legal application pushing for the release of these minutes. There is, however, no reason to doubt the legitimacy of the minutes.