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Picture: REUTERS
Picture: REUTERS

The decision by the Helen Suzman Foundation to call for transparency around the identities and appointments of special advisers to the president, deputy president, ministers and premiers must be welcomed. In a report dated September 9 and titled “Unveiling the power behind the throne: who are the special advisers?", the foundation argues that transparency would help prevent the negative consequences of cadre deployment, nepotism and the appointment of unqualified individuals in these critical areas of governance.

Cadre deployment has been responsible for many of the governmental problems SA has experienced since the ANC won the watershed 1994 elections. Part of the problem, if not the heart of it, is that no legislation or regulations exist that could hold government accountable for such appointments, nor related parliamentary mechanisms. The ANC could appoint whoever it wanted to, and as has now become widely known it has simply “deployed” so-called party cadres, who more often than not have no suitable expertise, qualifications or experience.

For example, the Helen Suzman Foundation report refers to the former mineral resources minister, Mosebenzi Zwane, candidly admitting a few years ago that he had appointed two special advisers “without any knowledge of what they were doing for a living, or even if they were qualified for the position”. The reality is that this has been overwhelmingly the case with the appointment of almost all cadres of the ANC to government.

Most importantly, the foundation's report also points out that since special advisers' advice may materially influence the decisions taken by executive authorities, “it is crucial to ensure that the persons who have the ear of government are properly qualified.” This conclusion highlights the importance of knowing who the people are that the governing party has appointed as special advisers, so that their suitability and qualifications for the post can be assessed.

For example, the president's speeches have often left much to be desired, so knowing who wrote the speech is a legitimate question to ask. I have raised this issue with former president Kgalema Motlanthe on several occasions, and even made enquiries myself about a speech writer post in the presidency — to no avail. As a writer who has been critical of the ANC I was naive to think I stood a chance. 

Similarly, I have applied for positions in government and never even received an acknowledgment, even though I was more than qualified for the posts. The same trend is present at all levels of government. Seldom, if ever, are people who are not ANC members employed, despite the clear detrimental consequences of cadre deployment, and regardless of the skills and qualifications of people who are not members or supporters of the ANC.

The consequences of the bankrupt policy of ANC cadre deployment in the state-owned-enterprises, the public sector and all levels of government have become clear. It has facilitated the widespread corruption the media and the Zondo commission of inquiry have revealed. Almost every case of corruption that has been uncovered has been committed by people appointed in this manner. An astronomical amount of money has been misappropriated or stolen from the public purse by cadres of the ANC.

There is a distinct and interesting trend in our politics when it comes to the response to cadre deployment, especially over the period when the corruption in the ANC government exploded and severely tarnished the party's reputation. It is not black people or even black militants who have been first to expose and take on the governing party in instances of incompetence and malfeasance arising from such appointments. It has been mainly white liberals from the Helen Suzman Foundation, the Institute of Race Relations and the DA who have done most to hold the ANC accountable.

This is not only good for our politics and keeping the ANC government on its toes, its real worth lies mostly in that it conclusively, progressively and healthily shows the limitations of race in our political narratives. In other words, the facts of ANC rule since 1994 have served to explode the myth that black necessarily means good and progressive in politics, and white necessarily means the obverse.

As the economic and political crisis continues to deepen, and as worrying as that prospect is, we are probably going to see more of such developments, which rupture a racialised black-white dichotomous approach to our politics.    

• Harvey is a political writer and author of “The Great Pretenders: Race & Class under ANC Rule”.


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