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South Africa needs to develop and train a competent civil service that ensures effective service delivery, writes George Devenish.

Durban - The ANC’s views on cadre deployment reflect a profound ambivalence. On the one hand, it wishes to implement “competence-based municipal deployments”, while on the other hand, it declares its belief in the merit of widespread cadre deployment. This controversial and critical issue needs to be carefully examined and understood in light of both the law and the constitution.

Section 195 of the constitution provides that public administration at all levels of government must involve democratic values and principles of efficient and effective use of resources. Widespread cadre deployment as such negates this.

An Eastern Cape High Court judgment in Mlokoti v Amatole District Municipality of 2008 established unequivocally that cadre deployment is indeed unlawful. In this case two people had been shortlisted by the Amatole District Municipality for the post of municipal manager.

A selection panel found Vuyo Mlokoti to be the stronger candidate and furthermore the municipality’s recruitment required that appointments be fair and merit-based. However, Mlokoti was overlooked and his weaker rival, Mlami Zenzile, was appointed to the post.

This appointment flowed from the instructions of the ANC’s regional executive committee, which told ANC members of the district council who to vote for.

When Mlokoti challenged the appointment of his rival in the high court it was set aside and the post was awarded to Mlokoti. This is a classic example of cadre deployment, which was perceptively criticised by the court which held that: “It constituted an unauthorised and unwarranted intervention in the affairs of the district council. It is clear that the councillors of the ANC supinely abdicated their political party responsibility to fill the position of municipal manager with the best qualified and most suitable candidate.

“This was a responsibility owed to the electorate as a whole and not just to the sectarian interests of their political masters… The district council demonstrated a lamentable abdication of its responsibilities by succumbing to a political directive from an external body, while disregarding the merits of the matter.”

Unqualified cadre deployment in general must be exposed for what it actually is, namely unfair discrimination. In effect it is akin to apartheid in the manner in which it operates in relation to those who are not card-carrying members of the ANC or who are not intimately connected to the ANC.

It is conceded that in a limited number of very senior posts in the civil service, as occurs in other democracies, where a particular position may justify the appointment of a person whose views are aligned to the governing administration, it is justified. This occurs both in Washington and Westminster, when, for instance, a new administration takes over the reins of government. It is, however, very much the exception to the rule that an apolitical civil service as a whole serves the government of the day with commitment and competence.

This is the opposite of what occurs in South Africa, under the ANC administration, where cadre deployment is widespread, and resulted in large numbers of incompetent people being appointed to positions for which they have neither the experience nor qualifications. This has resulted in very serious problems, particularly in the sphere of local governing, where in relation to service delivery there have been widespread political protests, some of which have become violent.

South Africa requires an apolitical civil service that serves all our people regardless of political affiliation in a competent and committed manner.

Large-scale cadre deployment must inevitably lead to the politicisation of the civil service and decline in competence and commitment.

Affirmative action is a very sensitive issue and it needs to be addressed in a mature and dispassionate manner. It should not be applied in a manner that is counter-productive. Although sections 9 (2), 195 and 217 of the constitution make express provision for affirmation action, it should not be applied in a manner that constitutes unfair discrimination.

In a landmark judgment in November last year the Supreme Court of Appeal struck down the use of quotas in determining job appointments. This case has far-reaching implications for affirmative action in both the public service and private sector.

In this case, which has a history of more than five years, Captain Renate Barnard had twice been denied promotion on the grounds of race, despite being the strongest candidate. Although recommended by the relevant interviewing panel, she was rejected by the national commissioner on the grounds that white women were already over-represented in the occupational category. Instead, the commissioner chose not to appoint anyone.

The court found that if an employer’s numerical equity effectively become quotas, unfair discrimination would result. Judge Navsa, who wrote the judgment said what had occurred was “like a throwback to the grand apartheid design”. In effect this is tantamount to race classification.

Moreover, irrational and unfair affirmative action must of necessity not only lead to inefficiency, but can also contribute to the creation of negative attitudes towards members of disadvantaged groups. Affirmative action needs to be applied in a sensitive and constructive manner and not amount to blatant racial discrimination in disguise.

The ANC needs to act in the best interest of South Africa. This requires that it carefully rethink its policy of widespread cadre deployment and aggressive affirmative action.

We need to develop and train a competent and professional civil service that ensures effective service delivery to all the people of South Africa.

* Devenish is an emeritus professor at UKZN and one of the scholars who helped draft the interim constitution in 1993.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.

The Mercury