South African Political Dictionary: Cadre employment and cadre deployment

by The Editor

SERIES: I have noticed over the past few weeks a number of political analysts and commentators using the phrase ‘cadre employment’ when, in fact, they mean ‘cadre deployment’. An intentional euphemism or not, it is perhaps worth properly defining and legitimating. It could explain much about the ANC’s attitude to tenders, for example. But, whether defined or not, it should be distinguished from ‘cadre deployment’ which is something else entirely. I try to explain the difference below.

South African Political Dictionary: Cadre employment and cadre deployment

By: Gareth van Onselen

30 August 2012

I feel duty bound to write this short note, by way of explanation, after hearing over the past few weeks various references by some ‘political analysts’ to ‘cadre employment’, when what was really meant was ‘cadre deployment’.

I think ‘cadre employment’ is a potentially useful idea, albeit it misconcieved. It should be developed and some evidence put together in support of it (which shouldn’t be too difficult), so it might enjoy a more formal understanding. It could prove a powerful and insightful way of understanding the way in which much ANC government business is awarded to companies and agencies with political connections. It would seem to effectively capture a range of problems in a single concept.

But first, the established concept, cadre deployment: the placement of party members at key centres of power in the state, best understood as follows:

Cadre deployment: The appointment by government, at the behest of the governing party, of a party-political loyalist to an institution or body, independent or otherwise, as a means of circumventing public reporting lines and bringing that institution under the control of the party, as opposed to the state.

Cadre deployment, a longstanding idea with a very particular ideological history, involves the creation of a parallel power structure to the constitution, so that party members answer first to the party, second to the public. In turn, that the party might advance its interests ahead of those of the public.

The emergence of cadre employment as an allusion to this idea, it would seem out of little more than confusion, means it enjoys no formal definition. It appears a euphemism for cadre deployment rather than a formal idea based on a system of thought, but a potentially valuable one nonetheless.  So let me venture a denotation:

Cadre employment: Economic patronage dispensed to individuals, companies and agencies, by the government, not on merit but on the basis they enjoy some party-political connection to the governing party.

Understood that way, it differs fundamentally from cadre deployment.

Both ideas involve a process bypassing merit but the former primarily to enhance control (positions of power) and the latter primarily to dispense economic patronage (public money).

With regards to the ANC, cadre deployment is generally more deliberate. The party has constituted deployment committees, the very purpose of which is to augment power in this way, and has a well-articulated understanding of the idea and its purpose.

Cadre employment would be more pervasive and less formal. Every level of government, local, provincial and national, often acts to reward loyalists with tenders and government business but who those people are is generally specific to the region affected or contract under consideration, and thus more ad hoc.

There is a strong argument to be made the one (cadre employment) devolved out of the other (cadre deployment). Once the ANC had secured many of the key positions of power in the civil service, it was able to dispense economic patronage more easily. That this practice is now as tainted as it is widespread means we have a free-for-all of sorts. So perhaps it is easy to understand why cadre employment is regularly used as a euphemism for cadre deployment – the difference being somewhat blurred in the public mind.

But perhaps it is worth fully legitimating cadre employment, defining and providing evidence in support of it.

As I say, I think the idea of ‘cadre employment’ is a good one, even if stumbled upon unintentionally, and much could be done to develop further if it is to be a helpful way of understanding the ANC, but I would argue it should not be confused with cadre deployment, the purpose of which is fundamentally different.

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