A threefold crisis, but Jacob Zuma is listening

December 28, 2010 by Adam Habib

The balance of power in South Africa has shifted. But the State is weak as a result of funding constraints and the loss of critical skills and institutional memory, a problem aggravated by the deployment system. Continuing inequality is another major problem. Unlike its predecessor, Mr Jacob Zuma’s government is more responsive to citizen and stakeholder concerns.

Although the poor brought the ANC to power, they have had very little leverage and business in fact has had more. This is because when the ANC came to power it inherited a bankrupt state and faced an investment strike. So it had to make a series of economic concessions to stimulate investment and growth. The result was the growth, employment, and redistribution (GEAR) strategy. However, the ANC's conference at Polokwane in 2007 brought about a more equitable balance of power.

The Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) and the South African Communist Party (SACP), having played a central role in bringing Jacob Zuma to power, now have a significantly strengthened voice.

Three big questions need to be examined.

The first is that of state capacity and service delivery. There is a huge crisis. Affirmative action and the deployment policy have been identified as problems, but at the same time there is a need for diversity. What went wrong was not only that state spending was cut but also that the Government got rid of people, so there was no transfer of skills and therefore no mentorship.

However, lack of money has also been a problem. GEAR required cuts in state expenditure, which meant fewer state employees at the very time when the State had to be demographically transformed and made legitimate. As blacks were being recruited to the civil service, white incumbents were allowed or even encouraged to exit the system. Not only did this cause a loss of institutional memory, it also sabotaged the skills transfer process. The very people who could have played the role of mentors were no longer in the public service. Black recruits, particularly newly qualified young university graduates, were set up for failure as they entered the public service.

Party deployment aggravated the problem.

Moreover, there were too many individuals who were deployed for the wrong reasons, such as procuring state tenders. As a result, corruption spread through the entire state system. This further compromised the State’s capacity and delegitimised it — particularly at the local level. The process of losing skills played itself out most tragically in the Department of Education. The only departments which seem to have avoided a loss of skills are the National Treasury and the South African Revenue Service.

The problem arising from the absence of a transfer of skills is now being recognised. Cabinet ministers want white civil servants back. You can see this from job advertisements in newspapers.

It is imperative that we reestablish the mentorship dimension of the skills transfer process. This requires the implementation of a more nuanced affirmative action policy, as well as a more expansive fiscal agenda that is directed at expanding the public service and building a developmental state.

A second serious problem is inequality. The Government is giving serious thinking to this. Previously the dominance of the National Treasury was a big problem. The third issue is accountability.

The most obvious contrast between the Zuma administration and that of Thabo Mbeki is that Zuma’s is responsive to public opinion and pays attention to citizen and stakeholder concerns. This is partly reflected in the Zuma administration's incipient economic policy, which will maintain the gradual shift to the Left that began in the last few years of the Mbeki government. The recent cabinet reshuffle shows that the performance of ministers is now taken seriously.

Several poor ministers (though not all) lost their jobs.

*Posted on www.moneyweb.co.za