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Meritocracy, not cadre deployment, is the key to good g...

Defend Truth


Meritocracy, not cadre deployment, is the key to good governance


Marcello Ross is an attorney and Director at Van der Spuy & Partners Paarl specialising in municipal law, commercial law and property law. He holds an LLB degree and advanced diploma in Corporate and Securities Law, and has acted on behalf of numerous municipalities including Drakenstein, Stellenbosch, Theewaterskloof and the City of Cape Town. He is also currently a council member of Boland College and executive member of the Municipal Law Forum.

Meritocracy has its role to play to combat the scourge of the administration being torn between party loyalty and what is in the best interests of our people.

“We are not a poor country; we are just poorly managed.” This assertion was made by Busi Mavuso, the CEO of the Black Business Forum, when she spoke of cadre deployment in South Africa’s municipalities. This was in the aftermath of the Democratic Alliance’s court application to declare the cadre deployment policy unlawful and unconstitutional.

Cadre deployment was formally adopted as a policy by the ANC in 1997 at the Mahikeng conference. Cadre deployment can be defined as deploying party loyalists and supporters into the civil service (government departments, provincial departments, and municipal positions) and not just political positions. 

The purpose of cadre deployment is that the party would capture all “levers of power in society, including the public service, the army, and the judiciary”. In the context of municipalities, it meant that not just the political positions would be occupied by ANC members, but that the party also sought to shove ANC loyalists down the throats of the administrations of municipalities. 

This, in essence, meant the party would have its hands firmly lodged on all the “levers” of society, and push the service delivery needs of society to the wayside in favour of party interests. At the time the policy was adopted it could be argued that it made sense, given that the public sector had to be transformed since the civil service was “white”.

However, times have changed, and South Africa is teetering on the precipice of a municipal collapse. Given that there are various reasons for our broken municipalities, a widely held view across the political spectrum is that an incompetent civil service is one of the chief contributors to the problem. This is clear from the Auditor-General report where she states that only 41 (16%) of the 257 municipalities obtained clean audits. 

The Auditor-General further highlighted that R1.26-billion was spent on consultants (including basic financial accounting tasks), which indicates that there is a shortage of skills and competency. About R10-billion was spent on salaries for those same officials, who could not do the job they were employed for. These are the repercussions of cadre deployment that have systematically eroded the fabric of the civil service. 

State Capture report

Chief Justice Raymond Zondo in the State Capture report remarked as follows with regards to cadre deployment: 

“If a party could decide appointments it could abuse this power to achieve ends which are not in the best interests of the country.” He said it is “unlawful and unconstitutional for a president of this country, and any minister, deputy minister, director-general or other government official, including those in parastatals, to take into account recommendations of the ANC deployment committee or any deployment committee or any similar committee of any political party in deciding who should be appointed to a position in the public service or in organs of state or parastatals”.

In light of the State Capture report findings, the ANC National Executive Committee recently met, and the party announced it would review its cadre deployment policy but would continue to oppose the DA’s court application to declare the policy unconstitutional and unlawful. Former minister Jeff Radebe was appointed to convene a task team to investigate and review the policy. 

Recently, the newly elected ANC Gauteng chairperson, Panyaza Lesufi, defended the cadre deployment system in a Q&A session with the Sunday Times. He said that Justice Zondo was a recipient of the system since the deployed members of the Judicial Service Commission had voted for him. He further remarked that the system works, as long as it is not abused. 

He stated that the DA is also guilty of cadre deployment since the Western Cape MEC Anton Bredell allegedly instructed the George Municipality not to appoint someone in a vacancy without the approval of the DA’s federal executive. This is where Lesufi completely misses the plot, since the use of the system is unlawful, unconstitutional and an abuse of power that in most instances culminates in a lack of service delivery and wanton destruction of our municipalities.

The question is, therefore: in what way should the policy be adapted (if any) in order to provide much-needed services to our people on the ground? 

In my view, our democracy can extract principles from the Chinese meritocracy system. The minister of cooperative governance and traditional affairs, Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, recently at the KwaZulu-Natal Local Government Indaba extolled the Chinese government’s meritocratic governance system. This is in stark contrast to her party’s policy and statements from her fellow ANC members on the matter.

Meritocracy is defined as “a society governed by people selected according to merit”. This system is diametrically opposed to a nomenklatura system, which is a system of appointments and deployment based on loyalty and membership of a particular party (for example in communist Russia). Cadre deployment has more in common with nomenklatura than meritocracy. The Chinese look at ability and virtue in electing politicians, as well as civil servants at all levels of government. All candidates for political office are subjected to a rigorous test, vetting, evaluation and screening, and must possess the necessary experience at every political level. 

This system emanates from the Confucian tradition which was ushered in by the introduction of the examination of civil servants about 2,000 years ago. For example, it took Xi Jinping, the current president of China, four decades and 16 promotions through the country, city and provincial levels to be elevated to the highest level. Some lower-level politicians (municipal) run constituencies that are the size of modern European states before they are deemed capable of governing at the highest political level.

The Chinese meritocratic style of governance can be infused into our multiparty democracy. China was able to uplift 600 million people out of poverty since 1978 by using this system. It is the second-largest economy in the world (and the fastest-growing economy in the world), with an average GDP growth of almost 10% per annum. 

In some circles, China’s political system is criticised as a one-party authoritarian communist state with no elections, as opposed to Western liberal democracy. The result is a lack of participation in government and legitimacy concerns for the people. Recently, China experienced wide-scale corruption. Meritocracy can be applied to both political appointments and administrative appointments in a municipality. However, I argue that the collapse of municipalities is due, in part, because of the lack of a meritocratic civil service.  

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to governance as most Western countries would want you to believe. China is a diverse country with a population of 1.4 billion people and encompasses a dispersed landmass. It cannot be compared to a homogenous country like Denmark with a population of 5.831 million and the lowest income equality in the world.

Meritocracy should be implemented in our civil service in the context of transformation, BBBEE legislation and employment equity. This can be done by ensuring that the civil service is occupied by employees who have virtue (they are not corrupt and lead ethically with the needs of the people coming first) and are adequately skilled to deliver services to the people (proper education, skills and experience). 

Consequence management is at the heart of the meritocratic system, as was evident in the Chinese crackdown on corruption in 2018, where government officials and employees were arrested and prosecuted. This is somewhat alien to what we see in the South African government today and how our President deals with recalcitrant civil servants. 

The current cadre deployment model invades the dichotomy of the political arm of the state and the administration. The focus should rather be on enhancing the political interface between the bureaucracy and a competent, virtuous civil service. Politicians should exercise oversight and not interfere in the administration, since the civil service must be nonpartisan, neutral and non-politicised. The meritocratic principles can also be applied to the bureaucracy and the election of councillors and candidates advanced by the parties for key positions such as mayor, deputy mayor, speaker and MMCs. 

Each candidate could be subjected to a civil service exam and rigorous vetting before being approved as a candidate for any political position. The South African Local Government Association can play a crucial role in administering those tests as it is responsible for upskilling municipal members and acts as a municipal watchdog. In South Africa, we must take cognisance of the fact that certain educational prerequisites would not be viable, while preferable, since some of our most capable leaders have no formal education due to various reasons. A lack of formal education can be supplanted by experience, community involvement or a keen sense of ethics.

Meritocracy thus has its role to play to combat the scourge of the administration being torn between party loyalty and what is in the best interests of our people. What is clear is that we require political reform at the municipal, provincial and national levels. DM


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  • It is not true that cadre deployment at one stage served a valid purpose. Right from the start it aimed at the ANC enriching itself at the expense of SA. It works this way: the politicians identify loyal party cadres and give them work in the municipality & provincial/national government. Then they pay the employed cadre a visit and put some pressure onto him/her to donate some of the funds received through renumeration to the party. In this way the party is funded by laundered taxpayers’ money. That is why they are so desperate to keep cadre deployment going. And that is why the ConCourt has already, some years ago, expressed its’ view that it is illegal. So I suspect that the ANC, Ramaphosa & Lesufi are going to get a proverbial “bloody nose” politically in the case made by the DA.

  • . . . The other reason for cadre deployment is to intimidate poorer people to support the ANC in order to get employment. For instance, in 2016 one of the ANC mayors openly stated during an election campaign radio show that “only ANC supporters will get jobs, nobody else”. And then cadre deployment is, as Marcello rightfully says, because the ANC wants to get control over everything, as is normally the case when a nationalistic party controls government. The point here is that, in order to get employment, the ANC has to be REMOVED FROM OFFICE. Then everybody will be able to get jobs. It is true that we can learn from the Chinese meritocracy, but it is part of their culture while I am not so sure that it is part of ours. But once the nationalism is removed and politicians are judged by the public according to how safe the public feels & how well they are served instead of on grounds of ideology, and people are appointed on grounds of how well they adhere to the job specifications, then everything will work better.

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