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After the Bell: It’s not just cadre deployment; it’s the cadres you deploy

After the Bell: It’s not just cadre deployment; it’s the cadres you deploy
Luthuli House in Johannesburg. (Photo: Gallo Images | Flickr | iStock)

It’s no wonder the ANC seems unable to appoint a Transnet CEO for months, despite the organisation disintegrating and jobs being lost by the hundreds as a result.

Those of us a little long in the tooth (moi) will remember the British satirical comedy series “Yes, Minister” that aired in the early 1980s. It was set mostly in the office of a fictional minister of something called the Department of Administrative Affairs in Whitehall, the centre of the British bureaucracy. The minister, Jim Hacker, was ably assisted by his Permanent Secretary, Sir Humphrey Appleby, and when I say ably assisted, obviously I mean surreptitiously and repeatedly stabbed in the back. 

The name of the series was a joke in itself. The civil servants repeatedly said, “Yes, Minister”, by which they meant, “No, absolutely not – not under any circumstances, don’t be nuts”. 

At one point, Hacker says to Sir Humphrey, “Do you see it as part of your job to help ministers make fools of themselves?” To which he replies, “Well, I never met one that needed any help”. Drier than my wife’s martinis.

The series was meant to reflect how power works and, simultaneously, how much disdain with which political appointees were treated – sometimes rightly – by career civil servants. 

There is a saying in some civil services that the service has a long tradition of apolitical professionalism, “so we really don’t care about which ministers work for us”.

In the best of all possible worlds, bureaucrats are appointed on merit and are apolitical. They are there not to decide policy – that’s a question for the political process – but are there to work diligently to put government policy into practice, whatever it is. That is the idea. It never happens. 

As a matter of realistic politics, politicians like to be surrounded by like-minded bureaucrats whom they can trust to bring their ideas to bear. And bureaucrats often see a possibility of promotion if they can somehow convince politicians they are on their side. 

So, all over the world, there are different rules and traditions to somehow make these conflicting pressures or tendencies into a functioning (or not) system. 

In the US, heads of departments are typically explicitly political appointments, and many ambassadorial posts are too. Hence they change every time an administration changes.

In Europe, the system is often more opaque. Some senior French bureaucrats are appointed by the president, according to specific legislation, while some are not. 

In Germany, the civil service has a long tradition of independence that goes back to Bismarck, although during the war years, that all got turned upside down and had to be very carefully and specifically reestablished after the war. Still, in Germany, senior civil servants are appointed by ministers from the ranks of the civil service. 

In the real world, civil service appointments are often made in alignment with political inclinations. 

In the UK, civil servants are technically accountable to the Crown, not to the political system – an interesting utility in a country without a written Constitution but with a monarch. Apart from a team of private secretaries, who are civil servants, ministers also have “special advisors”, who are not.  

Of course, in communist countries, the party is very specifically in control of all appointments to the civil service. But even in countries like China, where this is the case, there are times when public irritation with the selection of unqualified political appointees gets intense and some semblance of professionalism and merit advancement in the civil service is applied. 

But generally, party loyalty comes first, and you can often see that in the terrible and arbitrary decisions made by bureaucrats.  

In short, it’s all a bit of a mixed bag. So, what then do we make of the ANC’s claim that cadre deployment is completely normal and even practised by opposition parties when they get into power, like the DA? 

Specifically, in response to the DA’s failed bid in the Gauteng Division of the High Court to have cadre deployment declared unconstitutional, ANC spokesperson Mahlengi Bhengu-Motsiri said it was “a common feature of democratic practice around the world”. 

Bhengu-Motsiri was echoing the statements of President Cyril Ramaphosa to the Zondo Commission when he said: “Cadre deployment should not be inconsistent with the principles of fairness, transparency and merit in appointing individuals to public entities.” He was, however, concerned there were weaknesses in its practical implementation.

Well, this week we got to see some of those implementation weaknesses up close. 

The first was the typically chaotic way the cadre deployment committee was managed. It all seemed to happen on a WhatsApp group, complete with seemingly random calls for candidates for this or that position. Records for the group were sporadic and scanty, and years of records were “lost”.

A News24 report says the “records suggest a haphazard process characterised by jokes and repeated hurried attempts to convene meetings. The lack of organisation in the committee often culminated in numerous meetings being cancelled. It happened so often that, following multiple attempts to convene meetings, one member joked: ‘What time are you cancelling the deployment committee meeting?’” 

But when the committee didn’t get its way, there was hell to pay. 

The late deputy secretary-general of the ANC, Jessie Duarte, felt no compunction in firing off an angry and demanding letter to Justice Minister Ronald Lamola, no less, in March 2020 when the ANC’s preferred candidate was not appointed to the Judicial Service Commission. Shows where the power lies – and it’s not with the minister.

The newly released record confirms what the Zondo Commission found, which was that Ramaphosa had lied both when he downplayed the scope of the historic decisions of the committee, and when he told the commission it did not make recommendations for judicial appointments. 

The committee, it turns out, absolutely controlled the appointments of almost every senior position, from Cabinet to relatively minor departments to the parastatals. Everything. 

It’s no wonder the ANC seems unable to appoint a Transnet CEO for months, despite the organisation disintegrating and jobs being lost by the hundreds as a result. 

Judge Zondo pointed out the biggest problem for the ANC’s cadre deployment system: it’s unconstitutional. 

The Constitution envisages a public administration that maintains a high standard of professional ethics: that is efficient, economic and effective in its use of resources and that is impartial, fair, equitable and without bias,” Zondo found. 

But clearly it’s a bit of a grey area because the commission’s findings were found not sufficient to declare the body illegal by the Gauteng Division of the High Court in Pretoria. We will see.

For the ANC to demonstrate that loyalty isn’t the only criterion and that professional qualifications were also a consideration, all it had to do was point to recommendations of people who were outside the party, non-aligned, or even in opposition. But it hasn’t yet been able to point to a single case. 

Almost the entire South African diplomatic corps consists of former politicians, but there is not a single former EFF or DA member among them. 

You can look at this the other way around too: in a host of departments and parastatals, people were appointed without the first clue of how to run the organisations, or perhaps any organisation. And you can tell that’s the case because the organisations concerned have simply collapsed under the weight of rank incompetence. 

A good example is Themba Mhambi, the chair of roads parastatal Sanral who was by profession an English lecturer and who, according to insiders I have spoken to, knows absolutely nothing about anything to do with engineering, let alone building roads. 

In response to civil servants trying to explain the dynamics of the construction industry, Mhambi got angry with their “insubordination”, and suspended the chief financial officer and head of supply chain management, and the previous CEO left early. The organisation has spent about half its capex budget for the past four years.

Herein lies the problem with deploying cadres; you get loyalty, but it costs you competence. And the decline in competence affects service delivery. And that, normally at least, hurts you in the polls. DM

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Aluwani Nengovhela says:

    Hi Tim, thanks for the article. I’ve been asking myself what the point of this cadre deployment case is after we’ve had the very long Zondo Commission looking into state capture. Furthermore; it is indeed most political parties’ (globally) prerogative to employ persons whose agenda aligns with their own. Nothing new here.
    Themba Mhambi? I’d never heard of the man prior to reading your article. But wait, he was Chairman, wasn’t he? So he wasn’t operational. He may or may not have decent leadership skills, I can’t be sure. I’m questioning why you are stating that he was an English lecturer. Pravin Gordan is a pharmacist and he was rated very highly as finance minister 😀 probably because he had a super strong DG (and DDGs) to aid him.

    • D'Esprit Dan says:

      I think the problem is that Cadre deployment has been used at every level of the bureaucracy – it’s certainly not a civil service – to simply plunder the coffers. There is zero service delivery of any quality. That’s the point. I would have no objection to cadre deployment if those deployed had the skills to do what they were appointed to do, as opposed to dishing out contracts to family, friends and comrades. That’s the nub of the issue.

      • Graham Swan says:

        Couldn’t have said it better. It’s NOT about ‘cadre deployment’….COMPETENCE is required in managing/ running these multi-billion rand organisations/ SOE’s….but as has previously been put out there “they need to eat”….unfortunately competence plays NO role…the only ‘qualifications’ required: KNOW HOW TO STEAL AND LOOT – & WHAT YOU CAN’T STEAL AND LOOT….BREAK!!…..sad reality of our ‘democracy’…..

  • Andrew W says:

    These shouldn’t be surprising insights. The National Democratic Revolution has always been the agenda. That Squirrel and his team of Muppets are a little chaotic has very real service delivery consequences. Pity more voters don’t pay tax. This is the real nub of the matter

    • Bradley Welcome says:

      “Pity more voters don’t pay tax”. Neatly summarises how the ANC keeps riding the wave. When one is concerned about where your family’s next meal will come from, your not to much concerned about whether the water in your tap is safe to drink.

    • District Six says:

      All voters pay tax. It’s called VAT @ 15%. Such unqualified nonsense should not get airtime. The tax pie is made up of multiple streams. Not everyone pays all taxes but everyone pays some tax.

    • District Six says:

      Hardly surprising insights here. It’s Christian National Education vs ‘Bantu’ education coming back to bite us all.
      Correction: Tony James Leon, DA, was appointed as an ambassador to Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay. Also, if I remember, John Qwelane, and some others were also non-ANC appointees. Patricia de Lille and Mangosuthu Buthelezi were notable political appointments outside of the party in question.

      • Ian Gwilt says:

        Sent not exactly to the palace of Westminster or Washington.
        How many Non ANC appointees are there currently serving ?
        I also think that a few of our representatives abroad have not covered themselves in glory.
        I think that Tim’s point is a good one, Cadre deployment in one name or other happens everywhere, it is the quality or lack thereof of those deployed that is the problem.

    • Clive van der Spuy says:

      Unfortunately it has little to do with paying tax but all to do with receiving the transfer payment. Once I have paid my tax I assume I will not get much return on it, so in truth it does not matter too much how it is squandered. It is paid and done and dusted – but less privileged people should at least benefit. THEY should bleat about wholesale squandering and looting. So why don’t they? THAT is the puzzle of our politics.

  • Charles Butcher says:

    I am fast coming to the realization that we are DOOMED ,this thieving governmunt won’t stop until the country is broken down COMPLETELY like the rest of africa and EVERYONE (excluding the elite anc ) are back in the bush. Seems thats all they understand

  • Titus Khoza says:

    Again you are writing this just to please your ilk.
    I think you know very well how our political system is or was designed to work.
    Cadre deployment (read:monster to you), is what it is, and there is nothing sinister about it. If your party policy calls for it, then be it.
    ANC does not dictate to other parties how they should appoint people to positions(but of course you know that), and what policies they must change.
    But of course, you will not be doing your job if you pretended to understand that.
    Yours is to drive the narrative and and disguise as rational view of the of the goings on.
    Keep on keeping on. Maybe you will one day get your desired results. (which I doubt, because you must remember that the time is not waiting for you to take us back to master/slave era).
    Keep trying, keep writing.

    • MI CT says:

      The issue is not with cadre deployment itself. As the article states, this is not unique to South Africa. The issue is that the cadres being deployed are unable and/or unwilling to deliver, to the detriment of the people that rely on them. Do you deny that and believe the appointed are using all resources at their disposal delivering to the best of their ability?

      • Grumpy Old Man says:

        To which I would add – the calibre of the persons deployed is also a function of the calibre of those doing the deploying & furthermore a function of the criteria they apply when determining suitability.
        The whole Cadre Deployment argument would be moot if the strategy actually worked. It doesn’t just ‘not work’ as a strategy ; it’s been an overwhelmingly catastrophic failure (other than to the actual deployee) We see it’s impact in our Country’s non growth rate which in turn will codemn many families to a cycle of generational poverty.

    • R S says:

      I think people would take this critique of the writer more seriously if it weren’t for the fact that services are in rapid decline across virtually the entire country where the ANC governs.

      All your reply seems to say is “it’s the ANC’s right to deploy whoever they want, even if everything goes to hell”.

    • Kevin Busby says:

      I hope you have washed and ironed your ANC T-shirt for election day

    • Chris K says:

      Sad to see a comment like this. Every government department has failed miserably in its objectives and goals, and basic infrastructure and government services are falling apart around us.

      Yet you make this an issue of race, and accuse the writer of wanting to re-enact apartheid.

      The fact is it is the poorest people in this country who suffer the most from this governmental incompetence, and the majority of those people are black.

      We’re all South Africans, it’s OK to want the best for all South Africans.

    • D'Esprit Dan says:

      As the article takes pains to state: some form of cadre deployment takes place in most countries, it’s just the complete lack of quality and qualifications in SA that makes it a spectacular failure. The bulk are deployed to serve the narrow, Ponzi scheme interests of the ANC, not to deliver quality services to ordinary South Africans.

  • ST ST says:

    Now you get it! The most crucial questions have always been the quality and performance of the deployees, the lack of performance appraisal, incentivising poor performance, and corruption. After that we can deal with political and familial nepotism

  • Peter Smith says:

    It is interesting that the role political parties currently play in democracy was never part of the original process that was implemented in Greece at 400BCE. And it is enlightening to read the manuscripts of Aristotle who documented this process in detail – the role of civil servants and how they are to be elected.
    The dominant role of political parties that put candidates on a voters role was never part of the original concept of democracy. This is a recent phenomenon that has only been happening in the last 100-200 years. It is this deviation that is causing the current farcical comedies being played out in SA and the USA. What the world ended up with does not align with the key principles of democracy.
    Lets look at the DA in the City of Tshwane. There is not one engineer or CA among the 214 council members. Most of them do not have any qualifications. They are unqualified and unable to oversee a R46bn budget on behalf of residents. Their only purpose is voting fodder and they get disciplined when not voting for the party. In the administration, cadre deployment removed all the critical skills. The failure is an expected consequence. The irony is that the DA is riding on the success of Cape Town. But the DA councillors in Cape Town do not have the necessary skills or qualifications either. The success of Cape Town has more to do with the not having cadres deployed in the administration to extent that the rest of the country has.
    We should learn from history.

    • Kevin Busby says:

      here here Peter, an excellent comment. My own experience trying to engage with DA councilor’s in Tshwane has been dismally frustrating to say the least. Impossible to get a telephone response, even after escalating to both provincial and national level. Continually told to make use of WhatsApp….how pathetic !

    • Derrick Kourie says:

      There are two kinds of civil servants:
      1) Those who are voted directly into power by the people (eg politicians such as MPs. councillors, etc) together with staff they appoint and whose term of office expires when they, the voted-in civil servants leave their office.
      2) Those who are not obliged to retire when the politician who appointed them retires. This includes directors general, board members of SOEs, lower ranking civil servants in government departments, etc.
      Cadres deployed into category 1 positions do not offend against democratic principles. Those in category 2 decidedly do offend.

    • Denise Smit says:

      I would rather spend time bashing underperforming ANC and ilk than DA at this stage. Seems so want the ANC or EFF to rule again

  • Rae Earl says:

    Hey Squirrel, my buddy needs a job. He’s a highly qualified cable thief and would be best suited for a position in Eskom. He always votes ANC.

  • Geoff Coles says:

    Seemingly there is nothing, nada, remaining of the Minutes while Ramaphosa was in charge. This where there is seemingly a Committee of a dozen or more, plus ANC staff.
    Unbelievable, and it’s clear Ramaphosa has lied to everyone.

  • Greg Deegan says:

    Excellent article (perhaps you could give some pointers to your colleague, Rebecca Davis)!

    What many of the readers commenting here seem to have missed is the fact that a professional civil service, led by people who have come up through the ranks through various administrations and are well schooled in the execution of their functions and their mandate, provide continuity and mitigate the foibles of their political masters.

    • Peter Smith says:

      Exactly. But now the courts have decided its OK to allow political interference and state capture?

    • Thinker and Doer says:

      Very well put, thank you. Normally the governing party or coalition in countries changes regularly, so you need to have a very competent administration that provides continuity even when the government changes. The ANC conflates the party with the state, and assumes that has the right to govern eternally. This leads them to think that unbridled cadre deployment is completely justified. These are very dangerous assumptions.

  • Mark Wade says:

    We have a minister of police, lording over one of the most crime and corruption-ridden countries in the world, who was not only fired by Zuma for corruption – of all people – but doesn’t have a single day’s training as a police office, but rather, a junior school teaching diploma.

  • Kevin Busby says:

    Have these people never heard of Singapore ???

  • dexter m says:

    Great article . The problem is that the ANC does not have a system for monitoring and discipline of its cadre’s for non performance . With all the factions in the ANC who does a cadre have loyalty to the ANC or a faction of the ANC. But cadre deployment is one reason why no one can and will be be charged with corruption . This mess was created over 30 years , how to unravel it by a future non ANC govt may take just as long.

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