According to a report in Business Day, President Cyril Ramaphosa ended his recent testimony to the Zondo Commission with a defence of the government’s transformation policy, and urged Deputy Chief Justice Zondo not to order that the ANC’s deployment committee be scrapped.

Dr Simo Lushaba, a governance specialist who facilitates Director Development Programs at the Institute of Directors in South Africa (IoDSA), says that President Ramaphosa’s plea indicates that government has no intention of doing away with this practice and, even more concerning, has not yet recognised the effect it has had on the state of governance in the country and on service delivery.

“Cadre deployment is essentially a form of political nepotism, and is as destructive,” he says. “Cadre deployment by a shadowy ANC committee–remember we only know that it exists and that the sitting deputy president sits on it–has had a calamitous impact on how our state entities perform and thus on service delivery. People tend to focus on the particular instance of cadre deployment, but the real impact is on the public service as a whole.”

For example, he adds, cadre deployment does not only put people in unearned positions of leadership, it shows that the highest positions are available only to cadres. Professionals in the public service are demotivated, and few will apply to join an organisation in which the criteria for promotion are shrouded in secrecy.

The fundamental unfairness of the system is evident in the fact that even cadres themselves are disadvantaged. Genuine cadres of the party have no way of knowing whether they are on “the list” of possible appointees because it is not published even within ANC circles.

The sidelining of professionals, state capture and corruption are ultimately the poisoned fruits of this opaque, secretive system operating outside governance best practice.

“We are asked to believe that for many years this powerful secret committee kept no minutes, when even the humblest stokvel does that,” he says. “The intention is clearly to keep everything shrouded in secrecy and, above all, to avoid scrutiny. And without transparency and scrutiny, there will be no accountability.”

Dr Lushaba says that South Africans should insist that leaders and prospective leaders of state entities be prepared to accept a transparent nomination process that is independent and audited.

Nonetheless, the ANC–and any other organisation–retains the right to nominate an individual whom it believes would be the best candidate for a leadership position, but it should not be allowed to impose its will on the process. In his view, the problem is not the cadres themselves per se, but rather the broken system. The key point is that the appointment should be the best interests of the entity concerned, and the board should have the final voice in that decision. Good governance demands a segregation of duties and roles with good reason–one party cannot both be the nominator and the decision-maker. If this segregation is not maintained, as we see all around us, the outcome is disastrous.

“We cannot convince any entities, public or private, to appoint leaders based on their competence and merit, while still driving transformation, if the head of state and his ruling party cling so tightly to their brand of political nepotism — even after so much has gone wrong,” Dr Lushaba concludes. “Ethical leadership requires that leaders can only expect the same standards of conduct from others that they hold themselves to.”