LETTER: SA unable to emulate China
Meritocratic governance is simply not part of the governing party’s worldview
Speaking at the KwaZulu-Natal Local Government Indaba recently, co-operative governance & traditional affairs minister Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma lauded China as an example of successful development.
“The Chinese experience,” she opined, “has shown that we need more, not less of the state”. She said China “has been exemplary in nurturing a system of meritocratic governance across its political stratum”.
The Chinese developmental model is energetically debated in intellectual circles, and will no doubt be for decades to come. But as things stand the idea that SA could emulate this is delusional. Meritocratic governance is simply not part of the governing party’s worldview. As eloquently expressed by one-time ANC parliamentarian and later public service commissioner Mario Rantho, “it [was] imperative to get rid of merit as the overriding principle in the appointment of public servants”.
This view prevailed, and more recently the National Planning Commission referred to “the rejection of meritocracy in the country’s civil service”. Central to this was the counter-constitutional practice of cadre deployment; the deliberate politicisation of institutions that were required to be impartial and whose very effectiveness depended in being meritocratic. The carcass of the local government system is a sad testimony to this.
Alongside this, empowerment policy has extended this toxic reach into the private sector — think, for example, about the abuse and pillaging of state procurement that was recorded in gory detail by the Zondo state capture commission. Yet all signals from the governing party are that neither of these will be up for negotiation.
There is some irony in the minister (or the president) speaking of a capable or developmental state when it was the conduct of the governing party that precluded this possibility.
Institute of Race Relations
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