Vigilance and McCarthyism

by The Editor

SERIES: The instantaneous and dramatic nature of current affairs lends itself to a kind of historical amnesia, one where the captivating nature of those things unfolding today, causes one to forget the bigger picture. From the Archives aims to put forward the odd reminder that, more often than not, history is merely repeating itself. In all likelihood, somewhere, someone has already experienced and commented on those all-consuming issues that appear to have materialised only yesterday.

From the Archives

Speaking truth to power

In March 2000, just prior to the formation of the DA, the Democratic Party released a document titled ‘All Power to the Party’. There is a strong case to be made it constituted one the most important pieces of political analysis in South Africa’s post apartheid history.

It did two things: First, it identified and articulated for the first time what cadre deployment was and how its consequences were profoundly undemocratic (where it came from, how it had conceptualised and adopted by the ANC in 1997 and how its underlying motivation was the creation of a parallel authority to the constitution – ANC cadres were accountable first and foremost to the ANC NEC); second, it demonstrated cadre deployment’s practical effect, by tracking a range of appointments that were clearly made to bring the country’s “key levers of power” under the ANC’s control.

It represented one of those profound conceptual insights which require civil society – at the time completely seduced by President Mbeki’s spell – to detach from all it took for granted and re-access its position. That, however, proved to be a bridge too far for most and the DP was derided and maligned for its analysis.

The editorial below is from the Business Day, in which it accused the DP of McCarthyism, an fundamentally fails to understand or accept the democratic principles that cadre deployment threatened to erode.

Things have changed fundamentally since then (Financial Mail journalist Carol Paton recently described cadre deployment as “perhaps the biggest disaster of the transition period”) but it serves as a healthy reminder that the truth will out, and a well-founded and carefully reasoned opinion, even when it runs against convention, will outlast that which is merely politically correct. Many desperately wanted to believe Mbeki’s ANC not an increasingly centralized and autocratic machine, so much so they refused to accept that which was before their eyes.

Business Day
20 March 2000
Vigilance and McCarthyism

Last week the Democratic Party published its ‘All Power to the Party’ document on the appointment to senior government and parastatal posts trusted ANC cadres of the last few years. The DP seized this is an attack on the doctrine of separation of party and state, and paints a picture of a Leninist-inspired ANC attempt to ‘extend its hegemony’ over society.

Should we all be terrified of a tyrannical regime’s pervasive tentacles? Or should the DP be embarrassed at a McCarthyist effort to paint a false picture of the post apartheid state. Perhaps the DP is being too clever, seizing on the Leninist jargon the ANC uses to discuss strategies, including its ‘cadre deployment’ strategies. The jargon is a feature of ANC policy literature; it even uses Leninist terminology to explain its growth, employment and redistribution strategy, described by detractors as Thatcherite.

An ‘apolitical’ public service is part of the Westminister tradition. But there are many democracies where senior public service appointees openly support the incumbent. The prime example is the US, where even supreme court judges tend to share the political outlook of the president who appointed them. The attorney-general is a cabinet-member, though he or she is expected to avoid political partisanship. Senior administrators change jobs as president’s come and go. Similar standards apply in European democracies. An exception tends to be the post of central bank governor; it is not an exemption in South Africa.

South Africa hardly has a long tradition of apolitical public service. With a the bulk of skilled being ANC supporters, the trend the DP identifies was always going to be an aspect of South Africa’s peaceful revolution. So the DP must be pronounced guilty of McCarthyism.

That does not mean we can afford to be complacent. Not all political appointees are up to the jobs they get. All must be watched to ensure they do not take partisan decisions that go against national norms and interests. Fortunately South Africa is a democracy, so we have the ability – and duty – to maintain our vigilance.