Protesters picket outside the SABC’s offices in Aukland Park, Johannesburg. Picture: MARTIN RHODES
Protesters picket outside the SABC’s offices in Aukland Park, Johannesburg. Picture: MARTIN RHODES

CADRE deployment — the systematic placement of party loyalists by the African National Congress (ANC) into key positions of power — has devolved into a shambles, as the ANC has itself disintegrated internally as a party and externally as a government. The programme is no longer able to deliver control and power — rather maladministration, factionalism and general disorder. It has become the very antithesis of its intended purpose.

At the ANC’s 2007 Polokwane conference, where Jacob Zuma would be elected and, in turn, cement a permanent division inside the party, there was much talk of revitalising cadre deployment. A resolution on the "Deployment of Cadres" mandated the incoming national executive committee to "review the political management of the deployment process and ensure the implementation of the 1997 Resolution on Deployment, with a view to strengthening collective decision-making and consultation on deployment of cadres to senior positions of authority". It argued this required the "strengthening the National Deployment Committee".

The 1997 resolution called for "a deployment strategy" necessary to "identify the key centres of power" in order that the party might deploy "comrades" to areas of work on behalf of the movement.

Prior to the conference, the national working committee had identified the "key centres of power" within the state as "the army, the police, the bureaucracy, intelligence structures, the judiciary, parastatals, and agencies such as regulatory bodies, the public broadcaster, the central bank and so on". The 2007 resolution added "the private sector".

But, as with much that emanated from Polokwane, there has been precious little evidence that the process, ethically corrupt from the get-go, has enjoyed a second life.

At the height of former president Thabo Mbeki’s powers, it was a potent business indeed. This was not just because of the extent of the infiltration (Lawrence Mushwana, the previous public protector, was to Thuli Madonsela what chalk is to cheese) but because of the complete and utter abasement of all comers in the face of the moral authority Mbeki ostensibly wielded.

It was treated as the legitimate right of a party with such a big majority to do as it wanted with the state and its independent institutions alike.

All that started to crumble towards the end of Mbeki’s term as division and factionalism manifested not just in a battle for control of the party, but control of all state apparatus, too. Mbeki’s iron fist melted and rusted away.

And so it was, in 2007, that Zuma would try to leverage some control and unity back into the party’s primary means of circumventing the constitution and its linchpin policy. He has failed dismally.

The SABC makes the case perfectly. An assessment of its current condition reveals the big differences between cadre deployment then and now.

When Snuki Zikalala — later to become the poster boy for political propaganda — was appointed in 2002, the press was mostly supportive. Business Day said it was a "brave decision". The Sowetan argued Zikalala could not afford "to be distracted by the criticism" (that he was a party loyalist) and The Star went so far as to say, "It is … therefore unfortunate for Zikalala and the corporation that he will start his new job tainted by the perception of bias in favour of government and the ruling party. Zikalala has stressed his commitment to balanced and fair journalism after the announcement of his appointment last week."

If you think that was myopic, you should read how the press welcomed the appointment of Jackie Selebi.

This, then, is the first big difference. The ANC no longer enjoys the kind of sycophantic environment it did back in the good old days.

To its credit, the press has come to its senses and every decision is now ruthlessly interrogated and questioned. However, in doing so, it is not party loyalty it inevitably uncovers, but inadequacy. Fake CVs, poor qualifications, a history of mismanagement — these now seem to be the things that define the modern-day "cadre".

This brings us to the second big difference. By 2007, after years of systematically eroding the institution’s independence, the SABC board was jam-packed with people completely enmeshed in the ANC’s political paradigm, if not subservient to it. It included Solly Mokoetle (who helped to run Radio Freedom during the struggle), Christine Qunta (so enamoured with Mbeki she would take out large adverts in newspapers to defend him), chairman Eddie Funde (a long career in exile serving the ANC) and even Cecil Msomi, who would simultaneously serve as chief director of communication in the office of KwaZulu-Natal premier Sbu Ndebele.

But, whatever their loyalties, none of them lacked for qualification. That is not to suggest they were models of bureaucratic excellence, but they weren’t mindless.

Today, the quality of cadre deployed has seriously regressed. As the public protector has pointed out, the chief operating officer at the SABC, Hlaudi Motsoeneng, doesn’t even have a matric certificate and his biggest crimes have all been related to mismanagement — randomly inflated wages (including his own), purging of staff and internal discord.

SABC chairwoman Ellen Tshabalala is likewise compromised: she, too, appears to have lied about her qualifications. Otherwise, she appears to be in it only for the meetings. The by-product of the pursuit of power under Zuma — the dumbing down of the institution — has overtaken the initial purpose of cadre deployment. These people couldn’t run a bath. They can’t even manage their own CVs.

The result is the third big difference. Whereas Zikalala’s reign would be defined by so many of the kinds of outcomes you expect from cadre deployment — blacklisted journalists, interviews and documentaries banned or suppressed, stories manipulated, journalists told to hold the party line — instead you have a tooth-and-nail fight about the quality of the administration.

These cadres can’t even get it together to do some serious manipulating. They are too busy dealing with the war of attrition they are locked into, over their own competence. The desired outcome of cadre deployment has collapsed under the unstable weight of the process designed to achieve it.

The endless complications involved even in finding suitable cadres are perhaps the final big difference. The ANC’s pool of potential is now so small that "acting positions" are increasingly becoming the norm. Key positions, from directors-general to CEOs, are left vacant for years while wrangling, infighting and general confusion reign.

The appointment of Motsoeneng himself was so convoluted, you need a PhD just to understand it all — chairpersons resigning, boards resigning, decisions being agreed to and then reneged upon, then being reinstated by new appointees. The confusion and lack of ANC talent is so acute, 10 drunk people on a merry-go-round have a better sense of direction.

All of this is not to say the SABC is not biased in favour of the ANC as a result of all this mayhem. Fifteen years of systematic abuse will ensure a base level of political loyalty, whatever the competency of the institution’s leadership. The SABC’s conduct during the election is proof of that — the decision to ban the DA’s anti-Zuma election advert being a case in point. But you get the sense it has to pull out all the stops just to achieve that.

The SABC makes the case well because it is so prominently in the public spotlight, but this sort of devolution is everywhere. Cadre deployment has become almost synonymous with incompetence. Just look at Menzi Simelane, Zuma’s former choice as director of public prosecutions. Both the Supreme Court of Appeals and the Constitutional Court found his appointment problematic based on nothing more than his competence. As the Constitutional Court put it: "On the available evidence, the president could not have reached a conclusion favourable to Mr Simelane as there were too many questions concerning his integrity and experience."

Police Commissioner Bheki Cele was eventually fired because of a giant administrative foul-up. Former crime intelligence boss Richard Mdluli is under investigation because of his dubious personal conduct, as is current National Director of Public Prosecutions Mxolisi Nxasana. None of these people seems to ever get around to actually "serving the movement" because their own conduct or administration gets in the way.

Because so much public limelight is quite rightly shone on the ANC in government, one sometimes forgets that the ANC is itself a massive institution that needs to be properly managed and run. If the ANC is failing to properly run public institutions, why would that decay be any different when it comes to its own private protocols, systems and procedures?

It isn’t. The ANC can no longer even deploy cadres properly.

Cadre deployment no longer delivers power and influence; it delivers administrative chaos. And, when a party cannot even manage its own affairs properly, that is a sure sign the rot is so deep even the trunk itself is starting to bend over on itself.

It is tempting to say the ANC has brought public institutions under its control — the reality is that control seems to be the furthest thing from any of them. Modern-day cadre deployment is how the party reduces any institution to an administrative wreck.