Posted on August 25, 2006

South Africa: Poor Excuse For Failure Develops A Life Of Its Own

Rhoda Kadalie,, August 24, 2006

A Small report in the Sunday Times (August 20) caught my eye. It looked insignificant but captured an issue at the heart of government’s inability to deliver services to the poor.

“Youth body says it lacks capacity” is the story about the National Youth Commission complaining to MPs that it does not have the tools or “capacity to achieve our mandate … Our research directorate is a joke compared with other government units”.

What an admission.

Almost blaming Parliament for their inability to do their work, these “laaities”, who earn more than professors (more than R500000 a year), were appointed to high office by the ANC simply to co-opt them into the ruling elite lest they stray into Zuma’s path.

Whatever the political reasons, many are far too young and inexperienced to do the job, and use the excuse of “lack of capacity” as though it is unrelated to their abilities.

The same goes for the South African Local Government Authority (Salga), the National Development Agency and the Umsobomvu Fund. Millions of rands have been wasted on these organisations — their role being to build capacity — when the very people running them lack the skills and competencies to carry out functions they are meant to perform.

Business Day recently exposed former Salga CEO Thabo Mokwena’s gross mismanagement of the body. And the auditor-general commented on exorbitant wastage under his command. Parliament’s oversight body, Scopa, finds it difficult to keep track of misappropriations at this and similar bodies because, complains chairman Themba Godi, of perennial turnover of senior government officials, who despite bungling move on to the next job before they get found out.

And so this phrase “lack of capacity” has developed a life of its own, a euphemism for the appointment of unskilled, unqualified, and incompetent people under the guise of affirmative action. By their own admission, these highly salaried, BMW-driving youth lack the qualifications to do their jobs. It has become commonplace for government to employ underqualified people, often political appointees, to top jobs, but then employ consultants, researchers and academics to do their work for them. Countless houses could have been provided with the money these institutions have wasted. Instead of taking up space in newspapers to counter John Pilger, government’s Trevor Manuel and Joel Netshitenzhe should address this rampant wastage.

The government is its own worst advertisement for affirmative action. Project Consolidate is an admission that affirmative action has failed.

Debate on scrapping provinces is another acknowledgement that the incumbents (political appointees mostly), and equity-at-any-cost have affected delivery adversely. The more that local and provincial government fail to deliver, the more government thinks it should centralise. This politically inspired view denies that decentralisation, citizen participation and democratic decision-making at local level enhance rather than detract from effective service delivery.

The City of Cape Town, under mayor Nomaindia Mfeketo and city manager Wallace Mgoqi, was incompetent and wasteful because the most heinous affirmative action and procurement policies (compounded by secret forms of governance that excluded the public and opposition parties) destroyed capacity in that municipality.

The country cannot continue on this path, and has to find a better way to implement affirmative action. Government has to acknowledge that political appointments are not the same thing as affirmative action.

Second, affirmative action is not about redress, because we cannot make up for the travesties of apartheid but we can adopt measures to make equal opportunity a reality for those discriminated against.

Affirmative action should not exclude white people but should create a balance between what is needed and who is the best person to do the job. So if I were the president, I would employ rather than alienate skilled whites precisely so they can make up for the past — those with the best skills and privileged education should contribute to rebuilding SA by using the skills that advantaged them.

Third, affirmative action means appointing on the basis of merit, skills and qualifications of those formerly excluded. It does not ever mean getting rid of incumbents, no matter what their race, gender, or ethnicity.

For affirmative action to succeed, it has to go hand in hand with relevant selection and recruitment procedures; proper induction of new employees; continuing training and development of staff; transformation of the organisational culture; establishing special training programmes; and periodically setting goals and timetables for achieving diversity.

“Lack of capacity” is the result of policies based solely on race, gender or disability, and is responsible for municipalities collapsing and the decline of efficient services to the poor.

Affirmative action is a human-rights violation when unskilled people are foisted upon the poor, who need effective service delivery most.