/ 8 May 2024

Why was cadre deployment valuable?

The Human Sciences Research Council says the ANC's policy of cadre deployment is adversely affecting public services.
The ANC’s policy promoted transformation and representation in public institutions, but it has been criticised for contributing to corruption and mismanagement in government

The purpose of the ANC’s cadre policy and deployment strategy, adopted after South Africa attained democracy in 1994, is to have loyal party hands in strategic positions at various levels of government. Although cadre deployment has been criticised in the past few years, it is worth understanding its rationale and the value it has had in light of the country’s apartheid history — but also how it has contributed to institutional damage in government.

The ANC uses cadre deployment for two main purposes. The first is to appoint its members to key public positions. The second is internally in the ANC, for members who move from one position to another. In the past, it used to be an honour for members to say that they were deployed as a cadre. That’s because it suggested they are disciplined, obey the ANC’s instructions and are not motivated by personal interests.

Cadre deployment should be considered in the context of the apartheid government structure and the limited educational and employment opportunities for black people. During apartheid, black South Africans were excluded from meaningful political participation in the government and the use of racial classifications and segregation meant they were never given public positions. 

Cadre deployment played a crucial role in promoting transformation and representation in public institutions. By placing ANC cadres in key public positions, there was a push for diversity, inclusion and representation of previously marginalised groups — black South Africans, women and youth — in decision-making roles such as the executive, the judiciary and state-owned enterprises. Without the policy, institutional transformation would not have escalated in the way that it did and the transition into democracy would have taken time

The educational empowerment and upskilling of black people was restricted because black universities received less funding and offered fewer academic programmes compared to institutions for white students. Black students faced discriminatory admission policies, limited spaces and financial barriers, including a lack of scholarships and financial aid. Plus, many of the ANC and other black politicians were either in exile or in prison. 

The deployment of cadres allowed for the training, development and grooming of leaders who were committed to the ANC’s principles. Through cadre deployment, the ANC aimed to build a cadre of skilled and experienced individuals who could lead and manage various sectors of society. In the early years, many of those deployed did not have qualifications, educational skills and formal training, so it was inevitable that some of those given positions were “learning on the job”.

Cadre deployment helped advance the ANC’s agenda and policies, especially in areas such as economic transformation, social justice and empowerment of previously disadvantaged people. It facilitated the implementation of ANC policies and programmes across government departments, agencies and institutions. This ensured coherence and consistency in policy implementation, avoiding conflicts or diverging agendas that could hinder progress.

Additionally, cadre deployment helped in maintaining political stability in the ANC and broader South African society. By having loyal and committed cadres in strategic positions, the party could manage internal dynamics, resolve conflicts and promote unity and cohesion. Cadre deployment was not just about filling positions but also about nurturing future leaders and ensuring continuity in governance. The ANC aimed to create a pipeline of leaders who could carry forward its legacy and vision for South Africa over the long term.

The damage caused by cadre deployment

But there has been increasing criticism of the policy because it has been seen as a strategy that justifies the placement of individuals in key roles based on factors other than merit and competence, leading to potential conflicts of interest and has been seen as an attempt to centralise democratic powers in the ruling party. Even when qualified individuals are appointed using the “merit-based recruitment” approach, concerns persist about favouritism, unequal opportunities and how it contributes to widespread corruption and mismanagement in government when cadres abuse the policy.

Some cadres in public administration may perform adequately, but there’s a contention that many are primarily tasked with fulfilling the directives of the cadre deployment committee that placed them in national, provincial or local positions, which can undermine the accountability mechanisms in the public service. Cadre deployment has become a strategy that enables incompetence to flourish and has made many institutions dysfunctional. 

Saying there should be no political influence in crucial appointments in the public service is impractical, because such involvement is prevalent across various political systems. For instance, the United States president is responsible for nominating supreme court judges. Although the Senate confirms these nominations, the process is inherently political. 

The practice of cadre deployment has also sparked internal divisions in the ANC because of increasing factionalism, particularly affecting the selection of cabinet ministers, senior managers in state-owned enterprises and public service officials. Even the ANC has acknowledged the weakness of cadre deployment when it noted that “Our weak cadre and deployment policies have resulted in the diminishing of our political cohesion, the spread of disunity and opportunism, poor coordination and accountability mechanisms for cadres we deployed in different sectors and the neglect of certain sectors such as local government.”

While the ANC’s cadre deployment policy was a valuable transitional policy that was necessary in the early stages of democracy, it cannot facilitate the growth and functionality that is required. South Africa needs a recruitment policy that emphasises the competence required to facilitate sustainable development through government. Cadre deployment is perpetuating the same system of superiority, elitism and segregation by giving opportunities on the basis of political affiliation and creates a system where “some animals are more equal than others”.

Karabo Mokgonyana is a legal and development practitioner who focuses on human rights protection, international trade and investment and peace and security.