Any efforts to improve social cohesion and obtain buy-in for social compacts are happening against a backdrop of crisis and a destabilising State, says former President Kgalema Motlanthe.
Speaking at a Department of Sport, Arts and Culture Social Cohesion Compact event this week, which was aimed at gathering stakeholder feedback on the clear roles of each sphere of society in advancing social cohesion in South Africa, he cited Germany as a country that had been able to pull itself out of crisis.
He explained that after World War Two, the country had to pay reparations and that it only managed to build a better economy by creating a Court Determination System.
Motlanthe noted that the system involved government, organised labour and organised business, with Germany’s workforce sitting on the boards of its top companies.
On the contrary, he said in South Africa, the workforce often protests for months on end, owing to low salaries, but, once a dispute is settled and an agreement is reached, top management of a company would often get rewarded with bonuses for saving the company money during collective bargaining processes, while low-income earners remained unable to prosper.
Motlanthe said South Africa needed a capable State and not one that just kept on talking.
“But what we do when we are confronted by the convergence of several problems including violence, racism and drug abuse, we adopt the strategy of ‘spray and pray’, which involves trying to solve the problems all at once.
“What we should do is identify both problems and opportunities that are catalytic – ones that would open up even more possibilities. If we take the state of our economy today, with 18-million people getting social grants, it means reprioritisaion of the budgets will not pull us out of that problem. What we need is new capital, capable of creating new jobs and boosting manufacturing.”
For example, Motlanthe pointed out that South Africa has massive methane gas resources in Mpumalanga, which, if the State legislated it as a national strategic resource, could create many more jobs and alter the South African economy.
He further mentioned that it was a problem that Ministers alone could appoint the line management of government departments, which contributed to an incapable State.
“The Public Service Act gives the President authority to appoint senior managers in government, but he exercises that authority through Ministers. Half the time, the line functioning Minister already knows who they want to appoint and the other Ministers invest in the goodwill because tomorrow they also need support.
“The process lacks transparency and regality. The fact that when the Minister is moved to another department, for example, the new Minister also wants to appoint his or her own staff. In that way, we are actively destabilising the State.”
Motlanthe suggested that, by proclamation, the President should transfer that authority to the Public Service Commission, which should, in turn, put together panels of experts to interview candidates for vacancies.
People that are appointed into government are often well certified, but not fit for purpose. “We need officials who are experienced in a specific field. Such a process would be transparent and rigorous. Those selected in that manner should be employed on long-term contracts, close to permanence, so that they stay on to gain institutional memory.
“Part of our problem is the conflation of government and State, we take them to be one, but government is merely the face of the State at a time. Once you go into election, a different government may be in place after elections. But the State is a permanent entity and we must seek to construct it as such, with permanent capability,” Motlanthe stated.
The former President said that, in his view, the best national department was Science and Innovation, because it has one director-general, Phil Mjwara, who has been there since the beginning, whereas Ministers have come and gone.
“Other departments have a high turnover and that is why it is difficult to build institutions and have the requisite legitimacy of the State.
“Where we are today is that we have no confidence in the State. The way to end it is for the State to prove in concrete terms that it represents the interests of the people – especially those that are unheard. Such a State would have legitimacy.”