As "public service month" drags unnoticed to its dismal close, the post-apartheid state bureaucracy remains troubled. The strain on the fiscus imposed by 2-million public service and parastatal employees is widely remarked. But public sector unions are powerful, the public service is a key driver of the creation of a black middle class, and pay or employment freezes antagonise key frontline workers. The government probably has to focus on improving public servants’ performance rather than on reducing their number. The post-apartheid bureaucracy was built on the twin foundations of a white supremacist state and a set of corrupt and tribalist Bantustan bureaucracies. Little wonder it is not working well. Efforts to improve performance have enjoyed only partial success. The public service code of conduct extols virtue but provides little disincentive to vice. Recently amended public service regulations have not stopped public servants’ private companies from doing business with the sta...

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