119 12-10-2012 Political Writer Ebrahim Harvey at the book launch of Kgalema Motlanthe A political biography". Picture: Tiro Ramatlhatse

A few days after he was elected president of South Africa, I wrote to Cyril Ramaphosa, with whom I worked in the trade unions in the 1980s, and urged him to review the bankrupt policy of cadre deployment used by the ruling ANC since it won in 1994.
To criticise this specific policy is not in the least to suggest that the ANC must not deploy its cadres to posts in state, government and parastatals. That would be both unrealistic and naïve. No, what is palpably and in fact tragically clear for all to see after 24 years in office is that often the quality of the members the ANC has deployed has been abysmally poor, resulting in the evident malfunctioning and poor performance at every level of government and in every parastatal since 1994.

There has been an avalanche of poor and incompetent administration in all areas of the state and at virtually all levels of government and in all parastatals, to a greater or lesser extent.

The media has reported on these matters since 1994. The print media, in particular, has exposed a deeply embarrassing and glaring litany of flagrant incompetency in the ANC government.

But it extends also to various public institutions, such as hospitals and schools. From all levels of government to these institutions, the lack of suitably qualified staff has been sorely evident.

This is partly why the ANC government has had a hostile attitude towards the media. It hates its dirty linen to be washed in public.

But the problems began, in fact, long before the ANC took office in 1994. It began with its 1992 document, Ready to Govern, which misled its own members and the public at large.

The hard and irrefutable fact - especially in the light of the notoriously poor performance in government - is that the ANC was nowhere near ready to govern when it assumed office in 1994.

The ANC was too preoccupied between 1990 and 1994 with negotiations, the technicalities involved therein, its relations with the then ruling apartheid Nationalist Party and re-establishing itself inside the country. Though this was to some extent unavoidable due to the exigencies of the period, it paid little attention to what would be required for it to govern effectively and efficiently after the 1994 elections, especially when its resounding victory was inevitable.

Cadre deployment is ultimately political decisions which are not taken in the light of what the fulfilment of tasks in posts would require in the form of skills, qualifications and experience.

One look at the CVs of ministers, mayors and premiers the ANC has appointed since 1994 will make it very clear why such political deployments had little, if anything, to do with whether or not such appointees were really suitable and capable of adequately fulfilling the related tasks.

I recall Ronnie Kasrils telling me how he questioned his appointment as minister of water affairs by former president Thabo Mbeki.

He tried in vain to tell Mbeki that he knew nothing about water.

To run a government in this day and age requires wide-ranging skills and capabilities which many or most ANC cadres in government evidently lacked.

Nothing revealed the miserable paucity of such skills and capabilities more than ANC MPs and especially ministers since 1994.

Probably nowhere was this more evident that when ministers and other ANC leaders were interviewed on television. I argue that even with political appointments formal educational qualifications are important to consider, which means that such appointments ideally should not be uninterested in such qualifications and should in fact require them for certain appointments.

But the paucity of educational qualifications by ANC cadres deployed is well known.

The fact is that the number of ANC leaders at all levels of government with impressive educational qualifications, including in its leading structures, is abysmally poor. Is this possibly why leaders of the EFF have recently displayed much enthusiasm for formal study?

I have little doubt that there is to a large extent an inverse relationship between formal educational qualifications and political knowledge and performance. This is not in the least to foster an elitist notion of formal education, political performance and competence, but that there is and must be a relationship between these factors is beyond doubt.

If there is any doubt about the factual basis of these claims of ANC incompetence, the Public Service Commission in May 2014 released a report of a survey it conducted. This report, titled "Assessment of the Implementation of Policy Framework on the Appointment of Ministerial Staff in National and Provincial Departments", found that ministerial staff were often hired without the necessary minimum skills and that jobs were tailored to suit individuals rather than requisite competencies.

If that could have happened at ministerial level you can just imagine what was happening at local government levels. But more worrying and revealing was the fact that the survey found that so bad was the skills deficit that often special advisers had to manage departments.

But aside from administrative skills it is in the formulation of polices, a pivotal area, where education will probably play an even more important part. The more educated leaders and members are, the better will be the formulation of policies and the more these will reflect their interests.

An educated and informed membership will probably also want to hold leadership more accountable. Is this perhaps perversely why the ANC has not tired of finding excuses for why its own policy resolution on the establishment of political schools had failed to seriously get off the ground and function effectively two decades since it was first adopted and that in the public domain we hardly hear of them?

I’m convinced that no plausible reasons existed for those very long delays. My sense was that the ANC feared an educated membership because it would sooner see through the shenanigans of the party leadership and be awakened to their own working-class interests through critical political education, and not where the party leadership prescribes what members need to learn about and, very importantly, what lessons to draw since 1994.

Where, too, is the ANC Policy Institute? Why is it that in the public domain we hardly hear of the ANC’s political schools and policy institute and their activities and programmes? ANC cadre deployment must increasingly pay much more attention to the skills, capabilities and qualifications of those it deploys and the more senior the posts to which cadres are deployed, the greater the attention must be on these matters.

I will conclude with what I said in a 2014 article for Business Day: “I am not in the least asserting that all cadres deployed by the ANC were undeserving appointments, but undoubtedly the bulk of appointments since 1994 were.”

* Harvey is a political writer, analyst and author.

The Sunday Independent