Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Cadre deployment and AA: The agony and arrogance of ignorance

How does it feel to be no good at something and find oneself doing it? How does it feel to be very good at something and not have the chance to do it? In the first case the words apprehensive, fearful and challenged come to mind. In the second resentful, angry and defeatist. These situations face thousands of South Africans every day in all walks of life. There are many and varied causes, but two of the most invidious are cadre deployment and the heavy-handed application of affirmative action.

There are lots of beneficiaries of cadre deployment and affirmative action who just get on with their job and don't make a big fuss about their privileged status. They succeed and things improve. We'd be fortunate if they are in the majority, but who's to say?

But there are many who feel like cheats and secretly would rather they were guided on their way to the top so that when they get there they feel they deserved it. They do their best in their jobs, making others, particularly those passed over for promotion, feel a bit better about themselves. But generally they under-perform and their employers suffer as a result. They experience what I call the ‘agony of ignorance’, a form of cognitive dissonance which leaves them confused, fearful and guilty, though committed to self-improvement and longing for acceptance by their peers.

Sadly, just as many beneficiaries develop a sense of entitlement and quickly throw their weight around. They become hyper-sensitive, defensive and passive aggressive, making life for their colleagues intolerable. Their functional incapacity gradually leads to organisational failure and breakdown as a culture of blame, non-accountability and mediocrity sets in. They display the ‘arrogance of ignorance’.

Those who lose out either fade into obscurity, lead a life of unfulfilled potential and count the days to retirement, adding to the waste and tragedy of agony and arrogance; or they experience a resurgence of energy and head off in a new direction entirely, often following an entrepreneurial route.

Do you sometimes get the sense South Africa is suffering too much agony, ignorance and unfulfilled potential, and not enough energy and entrepreneurialism? If you do, it's because the countless thousands of people with these ailments are infecting the national psyche. Through osmosis, psychological trauma is negatively affecting families, organisations, communities. South Africa has an identity crisis because our society is being deliberately manipulated before our very eyes, but we cannot see it. We must be careful our blindness does not become a terminal disease.

Amongst the many organisations and institutions in South Africa that are working well and productive, are a worryingly large number that are dysfunctional and failing. In 2012 Clem Sunter assessed the chances of us heading for the failed state scenario at 50%. Alex Boraine, in his book What's Gone Wrong, expresses deep concerns for our future. How we arrived at this sorry state is a story that needs retelling, for it sheds some light on the origins of some very damaging legislation that, when enacted, will distort South African society just as much as apartheid did. 

I well remember the ANC's 50th National Conference held in Mafikeng in December 1997. I was on holiday in Hermanus and to the bemusement of my companions chose to sit and watch much of it on TV rather that sit on the beach. It was at this conference that the ANC high-priest of ideology and Thabo Mbeki protégé, Joel Netshitenzhe, presented the party's policy on cadre deployment. I recall developing a pit in my stomach, and thinking in twenty years’ time South Africa will reap the bitter harvest of this policy as the organs of state creak and groan under the dead weight of useless party loyalists.

(For a timeline of how the ANC planned to capture the organs of state for its own ends see this article in Politicsweb)

Its Strategy and Tactics document published in July that year said:

As a national liberation movement and a governing party, the ANC remains a central force for social transformation. It therefore needs strategic capacity to provide leadership to its cadres in the State, Civil society, in the Economy, Arena for the battle of ideas (media, cultural and educational institutions) and in the International arena.

Cadre deployment is a key mechanism propelling the National Democratic Revolution, a Leninist strategy of social and economic transformation whose aim is to remodel South Africa as an Africanist, socialist state with the ANC as its hegemonic leader. As Tony Leon pointed out in a speech in June 2004 in Johannesburg, the ANC does not regard itself as just another political party, but rather 'as the vanguard of the African majority, in much the same way as the Communist Party in Lenin's Soviet Union regarded itself as the "vanguard of the working class"'. Leon gave a masterful deconstruction of the ANC's view of itself, homing in on how cadre deployment, demographic representivity and affirmative action were the 'means of achieving African hegemony in South African society.' He concluded by outlining the DA's alternative vision of an open opportunity society (for all), one of the first explications of this vision which is now the party mantra.

Nearly ten years later, and seventeen years after the Mafikeng conference, our worst fears are coming to pass. The Women Empowerment and Gender Equality Bill, the Employment Equity Amendment Act and the Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment Amendment Act are demographic representivity and blunt affirmative action written into law, with cadre deployment their pernicious instrument. They are the crown jewels of ANC Africanist ideology and, deeply ironically, will have precisely the opposite effect of what they intend. Far from advancing the long term aspirations and prosperity of Africans they will lead to further inequality and economic sclerosis.

I want to make it plain that I support policies and interventions that attempt to reverse the socio-economic injustices created by centuries of discrimination against non-whites in this country. I also have no problem with people who are 'proudly African.' In the continent of Africa it would be absurd to deny people pride in their heritage, just like I have no problem with South Africans of European or other descent maintaining an affection for their place of origin. What I find problematic is the racially based social re-engineering enshrined in the ANC’s policies, which compete with Apartheid legislation for the prize Best Adapted Orwellian Screenplay. They consign advancement based on merit, individual liberty and freedom of choice to the dustbin.

As a consequence of these bills, people who do not have the skills to do a job will be placed in them, while people who do will be overlooked. Coloureds living in the Western Cape will be discriminated against because more of them live there than in other parts of the country. Didn't the ANC learn its lesson after Jimmy Manyi’s outrageous statements about Coloureds being over-represented in the Western Cape? Even the ANC in that province is now balking at this legislation. Does Trevor Manuel’s resignation from Parliament smack of sheer frustration with ANC stupidity and inverse racism? (inverse, because only whites can be racist, right?)

This has all been made possible by twenty years of cadre deployment (ANC internal policy, though not legislated), which has created a layer of top and middle management in state institutions who themselves have been deployed and are thus loyal to the aims of the new laws. The ANC is using affirmative action and cadre deployment to seduce the black majority with the promise of accelerated advancement, in return for votes.

Much has been said about the unconstitutionality of these bills, focusing on the legal interpretations of human rights. But what of the beneficiaries, and victims, of these policies? How do they feel about their favoured or pilloried status?

I am interested in the policy effects at the individual human level. Social engineers and ideologues, especially socialists and communists, love to look at the generalities of their theories and largely ignore how they play out in individual psyches. To the realists amongst us, communism might work in theory, but it soon gets bogged down in the pesky realities of human behaviour and individuality.

The problem with  cadre deployment and heavy-handed affirmative action is that their effects are insidious and often take years to come to the surface. In some activities they are immediately apparent – in sport or highly technical jobs where performance problems are immediately evident (airline pilots, heart surgeons.) But in most organisations this is not the case.

A simple example shows how slow but inevitable decline sets in. A friend of mine was employed by Eskom twenty years ago and was on the fast track to a senior executive position. He was highly qualified, able and dedicated to his job, and was selected for a management advancement programme at Harvard. Just before he left for the USA his boss phoned him and said he was no longer going. Instead, a black colleague was going. He was devastated. In the ensuing months he was ignored, requests for promotion were denied and he was made to feel unwanted, an outsider. A little while later he left Eskom. This was over ten years ago. He was one of hundreds of capable Eskom employees cast onto the scrap heap, depleting the organisation of vital skills.

Today, it is common cause that Eskom's problems, resulting in years of delays in commissioning Medupi power station and a new round of load shedding, are due to catastrophic implementation of affirmative action at the expense of organisational capacity. This mis-management has occurred in schools, hospitals, municipalities, the SABC and countless other state institutions. Who suffers the most? Joe Public, us, the tax payers and grant recipients who have to carry on regardless. Today we are blighted with service delivery protests. What bet tax revolts tomorrow?

How do we counter this perverse trend in our society, whose effects include misallocation of human capital, loss of scarce skills to emigration and retirement, weak economic growth and organisational decay, particularly in the public sector? How do we reconcile the pursuit of excellence with the demonstrable need for social justice and equity?

I believe it requires a two-pronged approach: at the corporate and state entity level, a concerted effort is needed in coaching, training and development, and secondly a focus on stimulating entrepreneurship. Both of these should be accompanied by vocal and visible leadership which affirms the need for redress while assuaging the fears of minorities that they will suffer discrimination. How can we have the best of both worlds? By unlocking the potential of all to excel, and creating a positive atmosphere that will lead to long-term growth and prosperity.

Imagine what this would have meant to our education system, where qualified teachers could have been retained with under-studies drawn from the pool of available talent and fast-tracked to positions of authority. Instead, thousands of teachers were given redundancy packages and critical skills and institutional memory were lost forever. Many teachers tried, and failed, to get into businesses using their pension payouts as start-up capital. Government should have worked with the private sector and business schools to enroll teachers into business skills workshops to at least equip them with some of the know-how required to run a successful business.

Companies must also share some of the responsibility. Instead of retreating to well-worn defensive positions and refusing to acknowledge the need for redress, they should come up with innovative ways of restructuring their workforce and professional management , even if it temporarily hurts the bottom line. Eskom, for example, could have placed both the deserving and the AA candidate on the management advancement programme, and split their responsibilities. It could have sat them down and explained the reasons for doing this, that both were being given the chance to shine even at the short-term expense of the company, and that their performance would be monitored with a view to further promotion down the line.

It is not too late to adopt this approach, under enlightened leadership and with an incentive- not a punitive-driven legislative approach. In any case, there is a good chance the offending Bills could be challenged in the Constitutional Court, for demographic representivity is not enshrined in the Constitution. In fact it runs totally against its main tenets of non-discrimination on the basis of race, gender and other societal classifiers.

In crafting our response to the Employment Equity and BEE bills the DA is trying to square our distaste for social engineering with our policy of redress. One wing fears by embracing the bills we will abandon our traditional constituency, while the other fears opposing them will alienate the new voters - predominantly black - we need to win elections. 

To clear up the confusion the DA needs to communicate our policy on BEE and AA loud and clear and ram it home wherever we get the chance. We accept the need to advance previously disadvantaged individuals through various measures, but we do not believe applying racial quotas is one of them. We advocate a number of proxies for disadvantage, including race. The emphasis on ownership is equalled by an emphasis on procurement and enterprise development. All of these points are in the relevant DA policy documents. We can counter criticism from black voters that these measures are too timid, by showing that they avoid both the agony and arrogance of ignorance when applied in the workplace, thus incentivising both individual performance and organisational effectiveness. These are more likely to lead to economic growth and job creation than current ANC policies. 

While not being colour blind (the extreme liberal position), we should not be colour obsessed (the African nationalist one). We have to accept that reversing historical discrimination against blacks involves positive discrimination in their favour, for an indeterminate period. There have to be checks and balances so that the once-affirmed are prevented from coming back for more. Some beneficiaries will get very rich, but there will be more who rise from comparative poverty and have the spending power to generate further growth and opportunities for those climbing the ladder behind them.

This is not an illiberal policy. It's common sense. It's the broad church view, not the ideological mirror image of the ANC's race obsessed policies. It will help us win the votes we need for victory at the polls, while preserving those we already have. Following this route, we are not compromising our liberal democratic principles. We are liberally opening up opportunities to people who were denied them in the past, while making sure we don't kill the goose that lays the golden egg. It's the centre ground of South African politics that we need to occupy. Eventually, when the ANC splits, we will need to sit down with the liberal democratic remnants of the ANC and have a conversation about forming a centrist alliance that can govern the country and put it back on its feet. 

Here is an example of where this approach is working. At my church Vestry meeting (its AGM) recently the rector pointed out that the congregation was beginning to reflect the complexion of SA as a whole and that the barriers between old and new congregants were breaking down. This is St George’s Anglican Church, Parktown, which for over 100 years has been dominated by whites, including many captains of industry. Our last three rectors have been Coloured or Black priests selected for their competence as much as for their colour, indicating an enlightened approach to appointing leadership that can attract a new and mostly black congregation (the last one, Steve Moreo, is now the Bishop of Johannesburg and the one before that, Charles May, is now the Dean at St Mary’s Cathedral). The newcomers are beginning to take up positions of leadership in an organic way, with lots of support and mentoring from established leaders, so respecting the rights of the congregation, old and new, and assuring the church as an institution continues to serve its members and fulfil its duties. In my view this is a valid model for how society as a whole should and will change in South Africa once the DA wins a general election and can implement its policies and reverse some of the worst of the ANC's.

A humane and pragmatic approach to affirmative action, which avoids agony, arrogance and lost potential, is the way to go. Ill-conceived legislation resting on antiquated socialist ideology, or a dogmatic adherence to liberal shibboleths, is not.

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