South Africa

The curse of the cadres

Curse of the cadres

It’s a remarkable aspect of our country that the official opposition has been able to do much more through the courts to ensure that the ANC’s adherence to the norms of democratic governance than through parliament.

In reality, there is limited scope for parliamentary checks and balances in a system where the ruling party – on its own or in alliance – has consistently edged around the two-thirds mark.

Another factor is that the ANC views itself as the vanguard of a national democratic revolution that will sweep all before it.

This mindset infuses the ANC’s approach to everything, but it reaches its zenith in the policy of cadre deployment.

Cadre deployment is the single biggest blight on SA’s ability to function.

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That is why the failure in the high court last week of the DA’s action against the practice is a blow and a rare loss for a party that has an exceptional record in using the courts to hold the ANC to account.

Judge Aubrey Ledwaba’s finding reflects the ANC’s justification for cadre deployment: it is common practice in every democratic government in the world.

That is partially true. When there is a change of governing parties, some key posts of the machinery see a changing of the guard to ensure that the old administration’s stalwarts don’t sabotage the new policies.

There are at least three obvious ripostes to this ANC justification.

The first is that we don’t have regularly changing governments. While there might have been a need for key positions of power to be occupied by ANC supporters when it ended the reign of the National Party, that is not the case now.

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The second is that the ANC’s talent puddle cannot possibly provide the skills necessary to run an economy as complex as ours.

The third is that no democracy in the world has so thoroughly ensured that any vacancy is filled by a card-carrying member, no matter how deeply the barrel has to be scraped.

Cadre deployment, bolstered by race-based quotas in the pursuit of “transformation”, walks in philosophical lockstep with the ANC’s determination to cement, in perpetuity, the party’s grip on power. The ANC party card has informally become a prerequisite for almost any civil service promotion.

One of the supporting documents filed in the DA’s failed court application is a confidential ANC document setting out the primary objective of cadre deployment. It is to “deepen the [ANC’s] hold over the levers of state” and to extend that grip “outside the immediate realm of the state institutions”.

This includes “the entire civil service … education institutions … independent statutory commissions, agencies, boards and institutes … and international organisations”.

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It will be interesting to see whether Ledwaba allows the DA to appeal his judgment. Key to his ruling was his view that the ANC, like any political party, “is entitled to influence government decisions, including the appointment of senior staff to public administration”.

The DA failed because its case was based on “speculation”.

The DA must bitterly regret its haste. The deployment committee minutes, released last week after another protracted DA battle that went all the way to the ConCourt, gives chapter and verse on the policy’s malevolent intentions and effect.

Ultimately, the DA’s lawfare, however necessary and admirable it is, is at best a temporary solution.

Since the judiciary itself is the target of cadre deployment and ANC capture, the only long-term solution is at the ballot box.

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