Party personnel agency

Alex | Oct 01, 2009
The ANC's powerful Deployment Committee aims to place the correct people in all key positions of power.

When reports of the ANC’s powerful Deployment Committee (DC) charged with handling all party appointments filtered out in December last year, opposition parties warned that this could be the beginning of authoritarian, even Stalinist-style government. The contents of the ANC discussion document on deployment policy will do nothing to assuage these fears.

The document, Cadre Policy and Deployment Strategy, makes clear that this centralisation of power is only the beginning. Indeed the sheer ambition of its goals are so startling that it raises serious questions about the ANC’s understanding of democracy.

The DC, appointed by the party’s national working committee on November 30 with Jacob Zuma in the chair, was initially charged with compiling a national list of candidates for the 1999 election and countering “ferocious” leadership battles and jockeying for position. Other goals included strengthening ANC control over parastatals and NGOs. As ANC spokesman, Thabo Masebe commented then: “The time for self-deployment is over. Every deployment will now go through the committee, be it in national, provincial or local government.”

The first high-profile casualties were provincial premiers, Mathole Motshega in Gauteng, and Mathews Phosa in Mpumalanga. Both had fallen heavily from grace with the national leadership and soon found themselves “redeployed” by the DC to political obscurity despite their grassroots support. Premiers are now handpicked by the president and they can only make cabinet appointments after extensive consultation with national and provincial leaders.
According to Cadre Policy and Deployment Strategy the policy sets out to “win hegemony” for the ANC. This means that it not only needs “correct policies” but “correct people” in all “key centres of power”. These centres are multiple, for the aim is to “strengthen political and administrative control” over the national and provincial legislatures, metropolitan councils (especially their executives) and the civil service. In addition, it exhorts “we must strengthen our leadership of all parastatals and statutory bodies” and “in all other sectors of social activity, including the economy, education, science and technology, sports, recreation, arts and culture, mass popular organisations and mass communication”.
The ANC will carry out an audit of all positions in such power centres, prioritise them and identify areas where the ANC is not already dominant, says the document. ANC cadres deployed to them will have the duty of forcing through a transformation agenda in every institution — and of reporting back to the party on what is going on in their institution.

Also singled out for ANC control are safety and security (ie the police) and the “international arena” which appears to mean not only ANC control over the diplomatic and consular service but also over foreign scholarship programmes and the like (“making use of our international relations to encourage placements and further professional development of cadres”). Particular emphasis is laid on “the mobilisation of youth and students so that they embrace our perspective of transformation and therefore form part of the pool of qualified cadres”. This helps one to understand the concern about appointing “correct” vice-chancellors at universities: these are to become the forcing houses of what Gramsci called “organic intellectuals” capable of dictating and enforcing the ANC’s hegemony over the new society.

All this sounds like a new Broederbond, except the aim is more ambitious, indeed more totalitarian than that. The Broederbond, a minority within a minority, accepted that its writ did not run in white English-speaking institutions such as the English-medium universities, press, churches or private schools, quite a few sports, cultural and scientific institutions, or a whole range of other voluntary organisations. In addition, although it was careful to maintain control over “bantu administration” and the black universities, the Broederbond had no ambition to penetrate the cultural or associational worlds of groups other than white Afrikaners. But it would seem that nothing is off limits to the ANC. It wants control over education, sport, recreation, science, and technology in general — no university or sporting body or scientific association will be beyond its remit. Similarly, its control over “mass organisations” will presumably apply to NGOs, ratepayers’ bodies, welfare bodies such as the Red Cross, legal and business associations and perhaps churches too; nothing, at least, is ruled out.

At the same time the Public Service Amendment Act published in April gives the president rather than the minister concerned power over all career matters affecting directors-general in national government — including their appointment, discharge and transfer. At provincial level this function has been taken away from MECs and given to the premier, presumably with help from the DC.
What is envisaged is an exact replica of the Soviet nomenklatura, a fact that has led some to suspect that Joel Netshitenzhe, a graduate of Moscow’s Lenin school for party cadres, is the likely drafter of the document. By careful manipulation of his role in the OrgBuro and the party secretariat, Stalin was able to place his handpicked cadres in every area of Soviet life. This provided him not only with his power base of loyal apparatchiks but guaranteeing the organisational totalitarianism and ideological uniformity that were the essence of Stalinism.

Quite clearly, the ANC’s new policy derives from sources so steeped in that tradition that they do not even realise how profoundly undemocratic the rest of the world has long ago decided such arrangements are. Not only is the notion of a non-partisan civil service, basic not only to the Westminster system but to any democratic republic, casually dispensed with here, but individual rights in general receive scant respect. Thus the document regrets the past period in which “there was no comprehensive and co-ordinated plan to deploy cadres to other critical centres. This has led to a situation where individuals deploy themselves, thus undermining the collective mandate.”
Note the almost military discipline: individuals should not “deploy themselves”. Instead there must be “a system of supervision and decision-direction . . . put in place to ensure that our army of cadres discharges their responsibilities in accordance with decisions which the movement has made”. The document looks back to the ANC’s 1985 cadre policy: “a revolutionary must be ready to serve in any capacity”; cadres must receive “ideological, moral, academic, military and cultural education”; and “the political performance of cadres and a thorough knowledge of everyone’s work ability and personal life should guide placement and promotions”. It was normal at that time for “our cadreship” to seek the movement’s permission as to whom they might marry — or divorce.

There is, too, a direct threat to the autonomy and integrity of the institutions to which cadres are deployed. What happens when a job in the civil service, a parastatal, a statutory body, the media or the police gets advertised? How is deployment to work then? Will there be a secret nod to the selection committee? Or will some individuals be forced to withdraw? Will the official ANC nominee be publicly or only privately known? Will merit play any part at all? Although the document says that “we should have respect for the internal processes of the structures and institutions we are part of”, the requirement that cadres report back to the ANC on the internal workings of these institutions is alarming — not only for the obvious breaches of confidentiality and loyalty this must lead to, but for the image of the political surveillance that it evokes.
The document considers the possibility that the ANC might restrict itself, like a normal political party, merely to choosing its election candidates (though even then a process of consultation with “the comrades” is assumed to be necessary before anyone takes a job), but this “laissez faire” attitude is brutally dismissed. To argue for this “would be tantamount to adopting a triumphalist position that we achieved all the goals of the National Democratic Revolution in 1994.” (Note here the reappearance of the NDR, of which we heard nothing during the election.)

Several other points warrant attention. First, which party are we talking about? The national Deployment Committee includes Jacob Zuma, Nkosazana Zuma and Zola Skweiyiya (all SACP members originally, whatever their status now) plus Sam Shilowa (SACP), Blade Nzimande (SACP secretary general) and Thenjiwe Mthintoso (SACP), leaving only two members (Max Sisulu and Mendi Msimang, the ANC Treasurer-General) whose SACP connections are unknown.

Jacob Zuma says he “never asks who is a member of the SACP. The only thing I know is that they’re all members of the ANC,” but this is disingenuous. Comrade Zuma will be perfectly aware of who is Party and who is not. Doubtless, the committee exists to do Mbeki’s will, extending central control not only over provincial premiers and top civil servants but over a huge array of posts beyond. But it looks as if the SACP has been cut in with a predominant say in the distribution of patronage — which is what the DC is all about. Mbeki is not a man to be unconscious of the significance of that and one can only conclude that either he wishes to strengthen the SACP or that he is offering the Party the rewards of patronage in order to seduce it into agreeing to the abandonment of its policies. Time alone will tell.

Jacob Zuma pooh-poohs such fears. “People always try to find something sinister. Actually the committee is just a helping hand. Cadres can come to us for help if they need jobs. Otherwise they can just decide for themselves”, he says. “We would never undermine provincial structures — indeed, we often refer people back to their provincial deployment committees. And of course we can’t deploy people to the private sector. Mac Maharaj and Joe Modise found their commercial jobs for themselves. Of course, the private sector could ask the committee to find an ANC cadre for them but that would have to be their initiative.” Jacob Zuma confirmed, on the other hand, that ex-ministers such as Sibusiso Bengu and Alfred Nzo, were being deployed by the committee.

And did we not hear that Cyril Ramaphosa had been “deployed” to the private sector? Since everyone, by definition, lives in a province, how can provincial autonomy be truly respected? And what about the inevitable political jobbery over tenders, contracts, permits, licences and subordinate appointments that is bound to be part of such a system? Above all the idea of a political party acting as an all-encompassing personnel agency means a politicisation and central control of institutions, appointments and individuals that is incompatible with a pluralist democracy.
Pervading the document is a feeling that, if at all possible, everyone ought to belong to or agree with the ANC and a basic discomfort with the thought that some people may frankly disagree. The whole style is antipathetic to individual rights: youth and students whom the ANC wishes to recruit, for example, are not to be individually persuaded of the beneficence of ANC policies. Rather they must be “mobilised” to “embrace our perspectives of transformation”. We hear how cadres must everywhere become “organisers who must ensure that the policies and programmes of transformation are carried out” even where “there are people who don’t share our vision”.

The one hopeful sign in the whole document is the admission that redeployment is not too popular with the rank-and-file, being “often met with resistance and seen as a demotion or punishment”. The document is intended to clarify the policy for the recalcitrant for, like other “discussion” papers emanating from the ANC national working party, its contents are not really up for discussion at all: it concludes by baldly announcing what policy already is.
The document draws up a hierarchy of those to be deployed, starting with “experienced and loyal cadres” and ending, at the bottom of the food chain, with “fellow nationals who may be apolitical but who are democratically-minded”. By definition such fellow nationals are likely to find “experienced and loyal cadres” preferred over them in undemocratic fashion while fellow nationals who are not, in the ANC’s view “democratically minded” are clearly fit only for the outer darkness.