It should not be about race. Nor gender. Nor family, social connections or party membership. Merit should be the only criterion when making senior appointments.
That’s not the rote rhetoric of a hard-hearted reactionary, indifferent to the need for transformation. That’s the opinion of Barbara Hogan, someone who has spent a lifetime immersed in the ideology of change.
A lifetime ANC member, she spent eight years in prison for treason. She married Ahmed Kathrada, struggle hero, treason triallist and SACP luminary.
This week Hogan told the Zondo Commission: “It cannot be that closeness to, or membership of, the ANC, or any of its alliance structures, or to factions within these structures, should be the determining factors in the selection of candidates for senior positions. In this day and age, there are a host of capable black and white professionals [women and men] from which to choose.”
This is something of an about-face on the ANC’s policy of cadre deployment. But then Hogan has seen the reality of the policy.
In 2009, she was appointed by Kgalema Motlanthe as health minister, tasked with rescuing that department from the damage caused by Manto Tshabalala-Msimang. She then survived for 18 months, a comparatively long period in a Jacob Zuma Cabinet, as the minister of public enterprises, before being fired for resisting the state capture project.
There’s been no need to follow the Zondo commission to know that a swathe of state institutions have been hijacked. We all have first hand experience of a government that is increasingly corrupt and dysfunctional.
Many departments are barely operative. Potentially, the delivery of state services can survive such lacklustre, revolving-door political masters. A professional public service has institutional memory and loyalty to the administrative process, not to a fickle political patron.
Unfortunately, the civil service has been gutted. At a senior level, virtually no career public servants remain, just a steady procession of highly paid political appointments.
Last year, the Institute of Race Relations analysed the extraordinary amount of cadre churn in Zuma’s administration. Over an eight-year period, in the 38 existing government departments, 172 people held the position of director-general, each holding the position for an average of 22 months.
If the likes of Hogan and President Cyril Ramaphosa have belatedly embraced the idea of a meritocracy, that’s good news.
Deployment is key to the party and its allies. The ANC is an enormous, self-fuelling engine of patronage. If Ramaphosa and his merry band want to retain their precarious hold on power, they, too, will have to use deployment.
ANC policy was to capture control of every aspect of the state by deploying loyal cadres to key nonpolitical positions. Ramaphosa announced the launch of the “Decade of the Cadre” in 2012.
Targets included the military, the judiciary and Chapter Nine institutions, all of which the Constitution envisaged as nonpartisan.
The ANC will not, cannot, relinquish deployment. And deployment makes state capture not an aberration, but an inevitability.