A thoughtful economist friend is wont to argue that President Cyril Ramaphosa’s administration doesn’t have a structural reform problem, it has a human resources problem. The commitment to reforms that would remove constraints to investment, make it easier to do business and boost growth and jobs may be there. It’s the appetite and ability among those who people the public sector that’s often lacking. One legacy of state capture was that even apart from the cronyism and corruption, independent-minded public servants with initiative and experience weren’t exactly encouraged. And though this administration might be committed to rooting out corruption, there’s little sign it’s changing the bureaucratic, compliance-driven public sector mindset — nor the habit of appointing underwhelming, inappropriate people to senior positions. Unblocking constraints and creating Ramaphosa’s “capable state” requires human resources practices — management, training and incentives — that enable it to hap...

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