Backtracking on cadre deployment: Ramaphosa missed his Kennedy moon shot moment

The Zondo Commission lasted for around four years and cost South Africa some R1 billion. More than that, some analysts believe the spark for the devastating riots in July last year had its origins in Zuma’s withdrawal from the Commission. Among the most important findings and recommendations was an unsparing indictment of the African National Congress’ cadre deployment strategy. The Commission’s report described cadre deployment as unconstitutional and illegal. ‘Above all,’ it said, ‘it is unlawful for any government functionary to implement a recommendation of the Deployment Committee in the filling of any post in the public service in which section 11 of the Public Services Act applies.’ But only two days ago, President Ramaphosa contradicted the Zondo Commission’s finding that cadre deployment is ‘unlawful and unconstitutional’. It’s that kind of small-minded politics that is preventing South Africa from launching its own developmental lunar mission, writes Terence Corrigan. – Sandra Laurence

South Africa and cadre deployment: a moon shot missed

By Terence Corrigan*

Terence Corrigan

The late US president John F Kennedy is today remembered primarily for having been assassinated – and for the speculation about a vast conspiracy behind it. His death was particularly traumatic for many people across the world as he came to symbolise the promise of the age, of his country and of the latter’s place in the world: societal and individual freedom, generational change while retaining the best that the past had bequeathed, and the boundless possibilities of innovative thinking. His administration acquired the romantic sobriquet of Camelot.

In September 1962, addressing an audience at Rice University in Houston, he delivered his memorable comments on America’s aspirations for space travel: ‘We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.’

The context was that the US had seemingly fallen behind its geopolitical rival, the Soviet Union, which had the previous year succeeded in putting the first human in space. Kennedy would not live to see it, but the vision he enunciated would be realised in 1969.

For many South Africans, a Kennedy moment of sorts occurred back in 2018 with the accession of President Ramaphosa to office. Replacing the hopelessly compromised Jacob Zuma, he promised a New Dawn, something analogous to Kennedy’s Camelot. Policy reform, getting to grips with the country’s decline and rekindling a commitment to the promises of the constitutional democracy that he had been involved in creating. His ‘Thuma Mina’ – ‘Send Me’ – call even echoed Kennedy’s exhortation to public service: ‘Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.’

After the ‘lost decade’, this was South Africa’s moon shot, and he was the man to captain the ship of state to its lunar landing.

Where this project stands was revealed not on the podium of an august institution of higher learning, but in that forum in which much of our governance seems to end up, the courts. The issue is the recommendations of the Zondo Commission.

The Zondo Commission was established – with some irony – by former President Zuma. Given wide scope for investigation, it is not unreasonable to believe that part of the former president’s intention was to spin the issue out for years, hoping that both public interest and indignation would decline, and that his opponents would face equal embarrassment. Besides, a commission’s findings would have ambiguous weight.

Ramaphosa has had considerable political investment in the Commission, albeit indirectly. It has given him a foil to point to the decadence of the past decade and to hold this up as legitimation for his own efforts. (Holding the deputy presidency during much of this period was really, in his telling, about fighting state capture from the inside.) Of state capture, he had this to say: ‘Its damage extended beyond the ransacking of the public purse, the attempted destruction of our public institutions and the grand corruption that robbed the South African people of what was rightfully theirs. It was also a betrayal of the values of our Constitution, and of the principles upon which our democracy was founded.’

He pledged further: ‘Having now known what happened and who was involved, our work begins in earnest. We must ensure there is redress, justice and accountability, and that such a shameful period never happens again.’

The Zondo Commission lasted for around four years and cost South Africa some R1 billion. More than that, the spark for the devastating riots in July last year had its origins in Zuma’s withdrawal from the Commission.

As a country, South Africa has paid steeply for the Commission.

Among the Commission’s most important findings and recommendations was an unsparing indictment of the African National Congress’ cadre deployment strategy. This was intended to be the vehicle through which the party would place loyalists in position in the state and society as a means to control ‘all levers of power’.

The Commission’s report described cadre deployment as unconstitutional and illegal. ‘Above all,’ it said, ‘it is unlawful for any government functionary to implement a recommendation of the Deployment Committee in the filling of any post in the public service in which section 11 of the Public Services Act applies.’

President Ramaphosa – in his capacity as president of the country, not of the ANC – has chosen to oppose an application by the Democratic Alliance to have cadre deployment declared unlawful. Central to its case is the Zondo Commission’s report. Yes, of course, there is an element of politics involved, but if ever there was a moment to let the statesman supersede the politician in the interests of the country, this was it.

Yet the president has responded that the goal of cadre deployment is to advance the ‘constitutional objective of transformation.’ In this there may be a grain of truth, since the party argued at the time that the deployment policy was being formulated that ‘(transformation) of the state entails, first and foremost, extending the power of the National Liberation Movement over all levers of power: the army, the police, the bureaucracy, intelligence structures, the judiciary, parastatals, and agencies such as regulatory bodies, the public broadcaster, the central bank and so on.’

Note how ‘transformation’ is defined in terms of party control. So, from the perspective of the party, cadre deployment was intended to further ‘transformation’. But this runs directly contrary to any reasonable reading of the constitution.

The president also argued that compromised officials and managers – such as Brian Molefe and Tom Moyane – could not be invoked as proof of the failure of cadre deployment. There was no proof they had been ‘deployed’. This too has a grain of truth to it, as the party claims to be unable to supply minutes for the meetings of its deployment committee for this period. This was, coincidentally, both the period most identified with state capture and the period during which the president chaired it.

Besides, implementing the Commission’s recommendations were not mandatory, he added. ‘These recommendations are not binding. They have been established to assist me, as president of the country, with the issues at the heart of this investigation.’

The president’s sentiments match those previously expressed by party colleagues. They also closely mirror the arguments made by some in the ANC when then Public Protector Thuli Madonsela released her report on the Nkandla upgrades.

Whether there is legal merit in the president’s approach remains to be seen. But this hardly demonstrates an inspirational Kennedy-esque fortitude. For to step back from a disastrous and illegal party policy, to appeal above the heads of his party colleagues and the patronage networks that have been built using public resources – even to stand with elements of the political opposition – would be hard. It would be to enlist ‘our best energies and skills’.

What is on display now is a cheap and easy route, the actions of small-minded party political calculations that misunderstand the relationship in a constitutional democracy between a party, state and its people. Ask only what I can do for the party.

And it’s that sort of small-minded politics that is preventing South Africa from launching its own developmental lunar mission.

  • Terence Corrigan is the project manager at the Institute of Race Relations.

Read also:

(Visited 3,572 times, 11 visits today)