Cadre deployment: bend over, ’cause we’re hiring

PHAKAMISA MAYABA  /  Broach the cadre deployment topic, even with acquaintances, and you never know what will happen – you could receive an anticlimactic ‘agreeing to disagree’, or simply lose a friend. Best not to go there.

Also, this issue tends go with a ‘winner-takes-all’ mentality, which holds that by virtue of winning most of the national vote, the ANC enjoys the pleasure of hiring and firing at a whim. Spoils of the ballot, if you will. Add to this the casual perception that, regardless of qualifications, if you prove yourself a malleable sycophant within the Mass Democratic Movement (MDM), you’ll soon drive the Beemer and own the mansion.

However, even a quick glance at the constitution suggests that all this flies in the face of the nation’s foundational document. Section 3(2) proclaims: ‘All citizens are equally entitled to the rights, privileges and benefits of citizenship.’ Section 195(1) further stipulates that: ‘Good human resource management and career development practices, to maximise human potential, must be cultivated.’ It goes on to say that employment and personnel management practices should be based on ability, objectivity and fairness’, and that these principles should apply ‘in every sphere of government’.

At this point, it all seems cut and dried, but there’s a snag. In the same breath, this section states that ‘the appointment in public administration of a number of persons on policy considerations is not precluded, but national legislation must regulate these appointments in the public service’. Sounds like an endorsement of cadre deployment, but only up to a point.

The recent successful court bid by the DA to have the ANC hand over its deployment committee minutes has brought us full circle on this hotly contested topic. Turns out we had not given this its due credit as a potentially potent electioneering tool. Also, we’ve seemingly neglected to analyse deeply enough the evolution of our post-democratic society in general and that of previously marginalised Blacks in particular. But more on that later.

Listening to a recent SAfm interview, one wasn’t sure whether the academic and political analyst Andile Swana was in want of a better term or simply angling for shock value when, in a deadpan way, he described cadre deployment as a form of apartheid. Invariably, critics of this practice would have given him a pat on the back, while its adherents would have argued that this ‘clever black’ was pushing it.

The academic and political analyst Andile Swana. Image: X.

One simply cannot hope to counter the embedded redress policies of the MDM without being labelled in a degrading way, especially when you’re black and should supposedly know better. You know, apartheid and all. Popular logic has it that whites – by virtue of being overlooked for key positions in the public service or lucrative state tenders – regard this practice with acrimony. As a result, white opposition to cadre deployment is fobbed off as less of a legitimate rankle than a matter of envy or apartheid nostalgia – notwithstanding the mounting evidence that the practice has become a byword for graft and ineptitude.

As the Patriotic Alliance leader Gayton McKenzie has put it: ‘State tenders didn’t start with democracy, but now that blacks have started to benefit from tenders, we’ve got to hear about a word like ‘tenderpreneur.’‘ Some other commentators have a similar take. Paraphrasing a Dr Seleen Naidoo, the Daily Maverick journalist Stephen Grootes has written: ‘[Dr Naidoo] suggests that governing parties in every country around the world have the right to practise cadre deployment. There are many examples in which ANC ministers appointed non-ANC members to important positions, including André de Ruyter being appointed as CEO of Eskom and three DA members being named as ambassadors.’

But Swana’s pronouncement is so profound that it simply can’t be left unchecked. It raises salient questions in as far as who the real beneficiaries of cadre deployment might be. Are they previously marginalised Blacks across the board, or – as detractors are quick to point out – previously marginalised Blacks who happen to have strong ANC ties? Of course, if the answer is the latter, there’s more than enough grounds for the unconstitutionality argument.

According to Swana, the minutes of the cadre deployment committee from 3 December 2018 and 17 May 2021 disclosed that under the presidency of Ramaphosa and the chairmanship of DD Mabuza, 96 different government departments, government agencies and boards of state-owned companies were impacted by cadre deployment, which mean that ‘ANC loyalists were installed in those institutions regardless of technical merit or any form of competency or probity in terms of honesty and trustworthiness which are required by both the PFMA and the Municipal Finance Management Act’.

In his view, cadre deployment has ensured that, in contravention of the constution, many black people have been subjected to apartheid in the form of job reservation, in favour of those who are known to be loyal members of the ANC. ‘So this has not just affected white South Africans — Black South Africans who are not known to be loyal to the ANC have also been excluded from jobs that they are fully qualified for.

Secondly, the county is deteriorating because of the non-performance of these incompetent people. ‘The economy is losing 5% of of growth a year because Transnet is not working, the ports are not working properly.’

Statistical evidence suggests significant improvements for the previously disadvantaged, particularly in education. There are more Black graduates and post-graduates in South Africa today than at any previous time. Therefore, it would be fair to say that there is no shortage of able and qualified Black professionals to choose from for staffing vital state institutions while  simultaneously meeting goals of racial redress. Yet this is exactly the sort of Black the ANC seems to find unpalatable.

The high court case of Mlokoti v Amathole District Municipality is considered a landmark ruling, and is highly instructive. Mlokoti applied for a position as amunicipal manager, and was the best candidate. However, he was passed over on the basis that the ANC’s cadre deployment committee did not want the position filled by a member of the PAC. The courts ultimately nullified the committee’s decision, and replaced the deployed cadre with Mlokoti.

There are many examples of cadre deployment having disastrous consequences — Hlaudi Motsoeneng heading the public broadcaster; Dudu Myeni, a former pre-primary school teacher chairing the national carrier, the SAA.

If these were aberrations rather than standard practice, our SOEs might be better off. Sadly, because cadre deployment has been allowed free rein, it has assumed a hallowed, untouchable status in the civil service. Anecdotal evidence suggests that it is par for the course across all spheres of government. Swana has a word for this: impunity.

According to him, court orders against various municipalities are simply ignored, demonstrating the lack of accountability in governance. In a strange twist, just as the DA was pointing a finger at the ANC, turns out it might also be guilty of the same offence; deploying its own in the areas where it governs. About this, Swana is harshly pious; just because someone rapes and murders doesn’t mean you should murder and rape as well.

Be that as it may, when President Ramaphosa appeared before the state capture commission a few years ago, he declared: ‘The practice of cadre deployment should not be inconsistent with the principles of fairness, transparency and merit in the appointment of individuals to public entities … But we would concede that there are weaknesses in its practical implementation that make the case for greater clarity, both within political parties and the state.’

Try telling that to the unemployed youngster desperate for a job – any job – who is being bypassed simply because of his political (non)affiliation. Or the woman who must first ‘assume the position’ in order to get a job.

A few months ago, Kuyasa Township was ablaze precisely because of the former issue. Many community members felt the local powers that be had overstepped the sacred line separating ‘party’ and ‘state’. They wondered what on earth wielding a spade or waving a red flag all day had to do with what party you were in.

Here at Toverview, we’ve expressed our sentiments about the DA’s ‘old boys club’ in various ways. But on this one, because it is congruent with morality, religion and even the poets, we can’t help but cross fingers that the notions of fairness and constitutionalism will prevail. And, that the DA will also remember what they say about throwing stones and glass houses.

FEATURED IMAGE: Kuyasa residents protesting last year against what they considered to be a form of cadre deployment in respect of a local road building project. Image: eParkeni.

This is an edited version of an article that originally appeared on Phakamisa Mayaba’s website, eParkeni.

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