Let's Think

Rebuilding a post-Zuma South Africa

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An almost superhuman task to rebuild the South African state as a well-functioning democracy and efficient economy on most fronts of the national household awaits whoever will form a post-Zuma, and probably post-ANC, government in 2019.

On the government front, the only certainty is that after the 2019 general election government will not be officially led by Mr Jacob Zuma, as per the dictates of the constitution. That he will be the head of state until then looks increasingly likely, but not certain.

Due to the extent to which the ANC has since 1994 erased the boundaries between the state and the political party, there remains the possibility (although unlikely) that Mr Zuma could still substantially by proxy control the state levers of power after 2019.

The way the battles surrounding the position of Mr Zuma are playing out inside the ANC at the moment makes it unsure, but unlikely, that it will be the ANC and its current alliance (including the South African Communist Party and labour federation Cosatu) which will be forming the post-2019 election government.

It is this integration of party and state structures and the raging battles within this construct that have already, and increasingly so, been highly destructive in the state’s administrative and economic development structures.

Though at times also under pressure, especially in the immediate past, just about the only institution of state administration that has largely escaped this destruction and retained its de facto independence, is the judiciary – and maybe to some extent the auditor-general.

The integrity and efficiency of the next level of institutions like the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) and investigative institutions like the Hawks, some so-called Chapter 9 institutions and state security structures – in particular the State Security Agency – have largely been destroyed.

And last week the brightest light among the Chapter 9 institutions, the office of the Public Protector, was also badly contaminated when President Zuma involved it in his personal battle for surviving the implications of that office’s state capture report.

Nature of the damage

By robbing these structures of their constitutionally mandated independence, the most serious damage done to them is probably the loss of integrity and of the trust of the broad community.

However, the more lasting and equally serious damage caused, is to what extent cadre deployment has destroyed institutional memory, expertise and the management skills that go with it.  

This damage is most acutely experienced in those institutions available to the state – especially state-owned enterprises (SOEs) – to facilitate and stimulate economic development and the employment opportunities that come with it, including providing critical infrastructure, core economic activities and communication platforms.

It is, however, a fact that there is hardly an SOE left that is not involved in a crisis and/or political controversy of one form or another, or is not a fiscal liability to the state.

Cadre deployment has also had the effect that the ANC’s internal factional battles and policy divides have deeply penetrated state institutions, causing the state to be at war with itself on a number of fronts. The most prominent example of this is the onslaught on the Treasury and the spat between the NPA and the Hawks that followed in its wake.

In the process the country’s professional bureaucracy has largely been destroyed and, especially at management level, replaced by what amounts to little more than party political functionaries on the state payroll, funded by the taxpayers.

Damage likely to continue

Regardless of what happens in the highly confusing battles within the ANC camp, which at times looks like a coop full of headless chickens, the damage is almost sure to continue till at least 2019.

There is a huge danger that a sort of ‘fifth column’ of the ANC, or a faction of it, will be in place in the administrative branch of government, if and when, the ANC loses control of the executive branch. The new administration will also inherit a civil service in tatters.

Probably very little of a truly professional civil service will remain and it will require a dedicated, focused and well-planned programme, stretching over many years to rebuild.

Also read: South Africa in last chance saloon

                  Zuma survives for now, but effects will last for years

by Piet Coetzer

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