South Africa is now in the grip of a governance crisis that threatens the very fabric of its society and the endurance of its democratic order. It must be said at the outset that this was not in the main the consequence of a tragic history or external catastrophe, even if both of those things played a role. Rather, the country is at this point because choices have been made that have pushed it there.
A prime incarnation of these choices and the phenomena they embody has come to be known as state capture.
In his letter to the country last week, President Cyril Ramaphosa addressed this issue in relation to the Zondo Commission, the last part of whose report was recently published: ‘Its damage extended beyond the ransacking of the public purse, the attempted destruction of our public institutions and the grand corruption that robbed the South African people of what was rightfully theirs. It was also a betrayal of the values of our Constitution, and of the principles upon which our democracy was founded.’
The president added that ‘having now known what happened and who was involved, our work begins in earnest.’ This was an ‘opportunity’ to build ‘a state rooted in ethics, professionalism and capability that truly serves the South African people.’
These are fine words, but we should ask whether the President and the ruling party will face up to this. For they were deeply implicated in the state capture associated with Zuma and the Gupta brothers over the past decade, and in the form of state capture that they have been engaged in since the 1990s – the latter arguably a more insidious form. Both of these have taken the form of the party’s cadre deployment policy.
The Commission’s Report devotes much space to analysing the role that the ANC played in the events within its purview. With typical understatement, it notes that ‘the interface between the party and state is of concern to the Commission.’
This is completely accurate. For the ANC, cadre deployment was an essential means by which ‘all levers of power’ – which were identified in a 1998 document as ‘the army, the police, the bureaucracy, intelligence structures, the judiciary, parastatals, and agencies such as regulatory bodies, the public broadcaster, the central bank and so on’ – would be brought under party control. This was in flagrant contradiction to South Africa’s constitutional order and corresponding legislation, which demanded that these institutions operate in a professional and non-partisan fashion.
The ANC achieved its aims. It had defined ‘transformation of the state’ explicitly in terms of the extension of party control over independent institutions and it proceeded to commandeer state offices for party influence and for outright patronage. The consequences of this have been on display not only in the pathologies described by the Zondo Commission, but in the overall governance malaise that has beset South Africa.
In fact, over a decade ago, a report on the state of municipal government – an area where failure has been especially severe – warned about the negative consequences of just this process: ‘Evidence has been collected to dramatically illustrate how the political/administrative interface has resulted in factionalism on a scale that, in some areas, is akin to a battle over access to state resources rather than any ideological or policy differences.’
Then President Zuma took this to a conference on municipal governance and emphasised the need to deal with this ‘interface’. In return, the audience gave him a rousing round of applause. The chutzpah on both sides was remarkable. Today, that ‘interface’ remains as entrenched as it was back then, and municipal governance probably even more dysfunctional.
This was the original state capture. President Ramaphosa’s words about the Zondo Commission’s report are perfectly applicable to what the ANC as a party has been consciously doing, in concept and consequence. Indeed, it’s doubtful the former could have happened without the latter.
The Report had harsh words about this. Cadre deployment it said, was unconstitutional (perhaps better described as counter-constitutional) and illegal. One remark from the Report sums it up: ‘Above all, it is unlawful for any government functionary to implement a recommendation of the Deployment Committee in the filling of any post in the public service in which section 11 of the Public Services Act applies.’ (Section 11 spells out criteria for appointment to the public service, and political alignment is not included.)
The condemnation is unequivocal. No justification whatsoever can be made for cadre deployment – and this is irrespective of the competence of any of the individual ‘deployees’. It must be understood that it is not just the outcome of cadre deployment, the filling of state posts with the incompetent-but-connected that was the problem. The entire process was an insidious corruption of institutions and systems. Correcting it will be the work of years.
More than this, the President himself does not escape scrutiny. Let it not be forgotten that the Deployment Committee was chaired by Mr Ramaphosa in his capacity as ANC deputy president during most of President Zuma’s term of office. Coincidentally, this was a period for which no records could be produced. ‘It is not sufficient,’ the Report said, ‘for President Ramaphosa to focus on the future of the party and his envisaged renewal process. Responsibility ought also to be taken for the events of the previous “era”. He did so partially and only in the most general terms.’
Cadre deployment has arguably been the single greatest hindrance to building a capable, credible and professional public service. This, to quote the President, was an unambiguous and intentional ‘betrayal of the values of our Constitution, and of the principles upon which our democracy was founded.’
Bear in mind too that President Ramaphosa stoutly defended cadre deployment before the Zondo Commission; more assertively it must be said, than he has done on any number of issues of pressing importance for the country. He even tried the absurd proposition that cadre deployment added an extra ‘filter’ to ensure fitness for purpose. ANC National Chairperson defended it after the Report was released – and even dismissed the Report as not being a legal finding.
And at the beginning of this week, it emerged that the ANC would be going to court to oppose the Democratic Alliance’s bid to have cadre deployment declared illegal. This is remarkable for a party struggling to meet its payroll obligations (and equally remarkable also for those who would assume the Zondo Commission was really a moment of change), but hardly surprising given the views of both President Ramaphosa and Minister Mantashe.
Clearly, the ‘opportunity’ that the Report presents for a recalibration is a limited and flexible one. The signs of any change to this toxic practice are not encouraging.
This is an adapted and extended version of an article carried earlier this week by The Citizen.