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Cadre deployment sends us headlong towards kakistocracy


Michael Evans is an attorney who has been in legal practice for more than 36 years. He works in public law at Webber Wentzel. He serves on the boards of five philanthropic/political organisations and non-profit companies. This article is written in his personal capacity.

There is no doubt cadre deployment has ensured the ineptitude and corruption we see at all levels of government and was used to facilitate State Capture.

A kakistocracy is a state governed by its least suitable or competent citizens. Despite the word looking like it may have modern Afrikaans etymological roots, the word is derived from two Greek words, kakistos and kratos, with a literal meaning of government by the worst people”.

It is tempting to refer to South Africa as a kakistocracy when one takes account of our poor governance since at least 2008 reflected by: State Capture; the highest unemployment rate in the world; years of rolling blackouts; the partial or total collapse of state-owned enterprises (SOEs) such as Transnet and Eskom; the complete collapse of our rail system; the failures of the health system with ongoing corruption and management crises in public hospitals; the water crises, with half our municipalities having improper treatment systems; the weakness of the education system reflected by the stark statistic that more than 80% of pupils cannot read for meaning by Grade 4; a massive escalation in crime; recent allegations by former President Thabo Mbeki that some ANC-controlled municipalities are employing hitmen to eliminate political enemies; the dysfunctionality of most municipalities, with fewer than 15% receiving clean audits; failing sewerage systems; residents having to resort to fixing their own potholes; the loss of skills and talent as emigration spirals; foreign policy decisions which have gravely weakened the rand; a weak Cabinet; the list could go on.

When one looks at this scenario, two words come to mind: corruption and ineptitude. Virtually all the problems described above have been triggered by one or both. In the case of power cuts, however, there is a partial exception. The corruption and ineptitude within Eskom have been massively compounded by a singular failure of leadership.

The primary culprit for electricity failure is Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe. Had he done his job when he took over the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy and brought solar and wind energy on to the grid, we could by now have avoided all rolling blackouts.

Cadre deployment

There are a number of factors contributing to corruption and ineptitude, but the key factor is cadre deployment: the appointment of officials at all levels within government and within SOEs, not on the basis of their ability, qualifications and their experience, but on the basis of their political connection to those appointing them.

Cadre deployment means primary loyalty to the political party and figures who appointed them, rather than to the organisation and people they are required to serve. If they are told to make certain decisions, particularly with regard to corrupt procurement, they have no option but to abide by their instruction.

A classic example of a cadre deployee is the previous SA Revenue Service (SARS) commissioner, Tom Moyane. He did not have the skills, qualifications or experience for the job, but was put there by former president Jacob Zuma to help pursue his State Capture agenda, as highlighted in the Nugent and Zondo Commission reports.

Cadre deployment was first implemented by the African National Congress (ANC) in the 1990s. Although unlawful, it was an understandable policy at that time. Many of those involved in the struggle against apartheid had sacrificed or not been given the opportunity to obtain the necessary qualifications for jobs within government, but they needed to be employed.

I was a member of the ANC underground from 1983 to 1990 (and have not been a member of any political party since then), but engaged in activities for the ANC while working, completing my law studies and practising as an attorney. So I did not need the government’s assistance once the ANC came into power in 1994. But many black cadres, particularly those who were involved in the military wing of the ANC, Umkhonto weSizwe, had not had these opportunities and needed assistance when it came to finding jobs.

In addition, there was a real need for the transformation of the economy from a racial perspective. The private sector was slow to transform and could have done far more to accelerate this process. This increased pressure on the ANC to transform employment in the government and to use the public sector as a vehicle for distributing wealth to those who had been excluded from economic opportunities under apartheid.


A good example of this process was Eskom in the 1990s, which is when its problems began. A large number of people were brought into the organisation to play a managerial role with no engineering or other relevant qualifications or experience.

Many of the highly skilled engineers and others, being “managed” by those who knew nothing about the work being done, left Eskom and took up positions abroad, often in the Far East. While those appointments were driven by a laudable commitment to transformation, this was arguably the beginning of Eskom’s descent.

While the case for cadre deployment was understandable in the 1990s, it is not a policy which should have endured beyond 2000, at the latest. And yet it has become entrenched practice. President Cyril Ramaphosa, Mantashe and Justice Minister Ronald Lamola have recently all strongly supported the cadre deployment policy and insisted that it will continue to be implemented.

Violation of Constitution

This is despite the fact that our courts have declared cadre deployment unlawful. The leading case, which has been commented on favourably in other cases, is that of Mlokoti v Amathole District Municipality and Another, a 2009 case in which the municipality rejected the best candidate, who met all the requirements in terms of qualifications, experience and skills, in favour of someone else on the basis of his political connections. The court declared that appointment unlawful and ruled that the applicant, Mr Mlokoti, must assume the position of municipal manager.

This finding was endorsed by current Chief Justice Raymond Zondo in the report of the Zondo Commission. He ruled that cadre deployment violates section 195 of the Constitution, which stipulates that appointments in the public service must be based on “ability, objectivity (and) fairness”. This is one aspect of the Zondo Commission Report rejected by the ANC.

State Capture

There is no doubt that cadre deployment has ensured the ineptitude and the corruption which we see at all levels of government and was used to facilitate State Capture.

Ill-equipped employees, who cannot perform their jobs properly, are more likely to be tempted by corrupt opportunities than those fully equipped; people who know that their jobs depend on political favours are more likely to turn a blind eye to corrupt practices by those in powerful positions.

I am not suggesting every cadre deployee is corrupt and/or inept; many have done a good job. But overall it has resulted in the massive problems we are confronting.

The ANC is not the only party using cadre deployment, or favouring loyalty over competence. But if the ANC and any other political party in control of a province or municipality do not abandon the policy of cadre deployment, and insist that every position within central government, provincial government, municipalities and SOEs is awarded only to those with the required qualifications, skills and experience, we can never hope to achieve good governance.

This becomes more urgent daily, as the problems highlighted above mount. As long as we are shackled to the dead weight of cadre deployment, we will continue to head in the direction of a kakistocracy, which ultimately will lead to a failed state. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Johan Buys says:

    history will not be kind : cadre deployment WILL go down as the root cause of the failure of our state. I am not even sure corruption comes close, imho skilled officials are very rarely the corrupt employees.

    The laws must change : the best person for the job with no regard to race, sex or political affiliation.

  • david clegg clegg says:

    Succinct, accurate and from a wholly believable and informed source. Thank you Michael.
    My own sense in the mid 90s was that government believed any cadre with the willingness and reasonable qualifications to do a particular job should be appointed. I thought it was naive that experience was not (apparently) seen as a factor and worried about the provenance of some of the qualifications. But it was only much later that I realised qualifications were secondary, political loyalty was paramount and the quality of the individual was irrelevant.
    The continued commitment to a failed and discredited policy is simply incomprehensible.

    • Eulalie Spamer says:

      It is not incomprehensible seen from the point of view of the ruling party who need this system to create pliable voting fodder. It is a highly effective system of patronage, neither more nor less. And it is the only thing that enables the ANC to hold onto power. They will never let it go.

      • Gerrie Pretorius says:


      • Gerrie Pretorius says:

        anc Cadre deployment, together with BEE and AA has been the downfall of this country. cr warned us at the beginning of ‘democracy’ in SA that the process would be like a frog in a pot, slowly being boiled without noticing. He is the worst of the worst.

  • Steve Davidson says:

    ” While those appointments were driven by a laudable commitment to transformation”

    What total and utter rubbish. You need a reality check, mate.

    • André Pelser says:

      I agree. Cade deployment was more about looting and enrichment than “transformation” and “equity”, Evans was perhaps well meaning, but naïve. What have you done since 1990 to oppose this state looting and what did you do as an “underground operative”? What is the point of this article? A belated realisation of being duped? The initial goal might have been equal opportunity and an equitable dispensation, but this quickly deteriorated into a battle for a share of the spoils of power and “victory”.

  • Dr Know says:

    What of BEE, which sidelined hundreds of thousands of skilled workers on the basis of race. Educated and trained at great cost by the pre 1994 system, this resource was then thrown under the bus and replaced with an unready populace. Those skills either emigrated, started small scale business and now after nearly thirty years have for a large part died off. The skills were wasted for SA, the knowledge not transferred. That asset was squandered.

  • Hester Dobat says:

    Excellent article. Highlights the journey of current chaos surrounding us in SA. But writers and their narative keep refering to ‘heading towards’. Surely we are past the point of softening the truth? We are there allready. I laud the private sector stepping to help the government save what there is to save. But changing the ideology of state ownership has to be completely overthrown and cadre deployment reversed. Ministers addressing each other as comrades are as offensive as other words now banned dating from apartheid. No we are no longer heading, edging, or moving towards state failure, we have been there for years. SA was dismantled bit by bit. When ANC took over in 1994 our citizens were ready to tackle our new democrasy with enthusiasm for all the good which could flow from it. The poor are still oppressed, the majority still functionally illiterate and more unemployed than at any stage of our country’s journey to a failed state. Lets call a spade a spade. And use our creativity to make our youth politically active in bringing about the change so needed. Should political parties be resposible for education? Or our derelict education sytem? How many of the 80% already starved of propper education can tell the difference between propaganda and facts. And they are our voting majority? Kakistocracy started in 1994.

  • John Cartwright says:

    Excellent article, going beyond bitching in order to understand the dynamics at work.

  • Milner Erlank Erlank says:

    Oh my word! The second paragraph of Michael Evans’ excellent summation almost serves as an epitaph of a forlorn, shattered South Africa. What a pity the entire passage could not be read out to ANC MP’s at every caucus meeting, together with the scathing indictment of Gwede Mantashe. But, would the ghastly reality even strike home, I wonder? The ANC collectively cannot seem to realise it is writing a history personified in the definition of kakistocracy not equalled by any other liberated African state.

  • Lisbeth Scalabrini says:

    Also the ANC must know that cadre deployment is a bridle to progress as it is pure logic. They must be afraid of losing power if skilled officials (not ANC members) were to be chosen, but they must also know that if they don’t change course it will be the end of an otherwise strong country and the end of the ANC. I suppose that they are only thinking of today and not much further, as they often do.

  • Claude Koenig says:

    And yet despite all this the ANC repeatedly have majority votes at election time.
    Until we get them out, we are saddled with the past of Zuma and his corrupt cohorts. Sadly the SA people have suffered the most and while the ANC leaders, Jacob Zuma and family continue to live a lives of luxury and personal excess!
    The country that in the early years of its democracy held out great hope of renewal and prosperity, has been raped by its leaders to an even greater extent than the apartheid regime – we are just another failed African state!

  • Lionel Snell says:

    Michael Evans has explained this very well, but there is one other process that has supported the rise of kakistocrats, despite the fact that the 1990s ANC veterans did include some very able and well-meaning people. If an ANC council is dominated by inept and criminal elements, then the money allocated for improving infrastructure, health and education will be wasted. This keeps the local population in a state of deprivation, poverty and ignorance – where votes can be bought cheaply and the ANC majority will be easily upheld. But a better ANC council will use the money more wisely to improve the local economy, health and education. This supports the rise of a Middle Class that can make its own choices – and become more able to vote for other parties. Based on voter turnout, the kakistocrats will be seen as the more loyal ANC members and will be promoted over the competent ones. This is the paradox of populism.

  • Pete Smith says:

    Spot on!

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