Appearing before the Judicial Commission of Inquiry into Allegations of State Capture (Zondo Commission) in August 2021, President Cyril Ramaphosa could not recall whether minutes of the now infamous cadre deployment committee meetings were kept during his tenure.
Evidence leader Paul Pretorius seemed exasperated at the response. As well he might.
It’s long been suspected that the ANC packed state institutions with party commissars, but the evidence was patchy. Now it looks more certain and casts an ugly shadow on all public sector appointments, whether innocent or not.
The DA managed to get its hands on the minutes of the so-called cadre deployment committee within the ruling party that vetted and advanced the names of the party faithful for positions in 88 state institutions, including courts, state-owned enterprises (SOEs) and government departments.
These minutes only go back to 2018, and mysteriously stop once Ramaphosa became national president (in May 2019).
It was these earlier minutes that Ramaphosa had trouble remembering when questioned at the Zondo commission, but these minutes make reference to earlier records that the DA is now hunting down.
If they’re anything like the ones from 2018, we have to rethink our understanding of the state capture project. We may yet learn that the Guptas were just one, albeit significant, cog in that machine.
Here’s what we know: from May 2018 to May 2021, the cadre deployment committee summoned 29 ministers and deputy ministers as well as Ramaphosa himself to direct the appointment of ANC cadres to key positions. Being able to whistle up cabinet ministers and directors-general suggests considerable administrative heft.
Even Ramaphosa had to bow before the committee.
In one meeting he apologised for failing to consult it when appointing the SOE Council.
“The very existence of this committee is so toxic to the country that it casts suspicion on competent and hard-working officials within the public sector,” says Leon Schreiber, the DA’s public service spokesperson told Moneyweb.
On December 3, 2018, the deployment committee met for three-and-a-half hours, with then energy minister Jeff Radebe and his deputy in attendance. Among the items for discussion was the need to fill eight vacancies on the Nuclear Energy Board, plus a slew of appointments in other companies within the energy portfolio, including PetroSA, the Strategic Fuel Fund, i-Gas, the African Exploration Mining Company, and the Nuclear Energy Company of SA (Necsa) as well as its medical isotopes subsidiary NTP.
The timing of this cadre deployment committee meeting and the presence of Radebe is curious, coming as it did in the midst of immense managerial turmoil at Necsa, apparently orchestrated by Radebe.
As Moneyweb reported in January 2020: “Necsa has been in turmoil since late 2018 when former energy minister Jeff Radebe sacked the previous board, including Dr Kelvin Kemm (chair), CEO Phumzile Tshelane and finance director Pam Bosman, on dubious grounds of “defiance”. In August last year  the Pretoria High Court overturned Radebe’s suspension of Kemm and Bosman, but made no ruling on Tshelane’s status as a disciplinary process was still ongoing.”
Commenting this week on the minutes detailing the committee’s deliberations on Necsa and NTP, Kemm told Moneyweb: “[This is] staggering. So it shows that the incoming chairman [Rob Adam] was a loyal party member.
“Also very interesting is the bit about the NTP board. The NTP board had nothing to do with government. It was entirely selected by the Necsa board, which effectively was me and the CEO, with our proposal being ratified by the Necsa board. So Radebe was trying to dictate the NTP board too, it would appear.”
Several new appointments were made by Radebe to fill the slots created by his dismissal of the entire Necsa board, though it is unknown what their party affiliations were.
When it came to selecting a whole new board at state-owned forestry company Safcol, former public enterprises minister Pravin Gordhan was tasked with providing six names, while the committee was to provide four.
The committee maintains a separate CV database and appears to operate as a kind of shadow employment agency.
Names of candidates were supplied to Gordhan with the presumed intention of posting them within SOEs and other agencies under his control.
The committee was signing off on the reappointment of the National Consumer Commission, and repeated references were made to candidates’ length of membership of the party. Loyalty to the party seems to have been the overriding concern, taking a leaf from the Soviet Communist Party playbook where party membership was seen as the surest path to career advancement.
The deployment committee also busied itself with judicial appointments, according to the minutes.
Appointments of judges, both in the Constitutional Court and lower courts, was discussed, apparently usurping the powers of the Judicial Service Commission which is tasked with vetting and selecting judges.
The committee left little to chance, with mid-level positions being discussed and names advanced, down to regional water board and municipal postings.
The committee deployed ANC cadres to public sector positions via two mechanisms, says Schreiber: by putting forward specific names for specific positions, and by a system of job reservation whereby the committee apportions positions between itself and the relevant appointing authority, usually the minister.
Where to now?
Schreiber tells Moneyweb that a complaint against the ANC has been lodged over cadre deployment with the Public Service Commission, and a class-action suit of people wrongfully dismissed due to cadre deployment is now being considered.
“Most important of all, we have to get a ruling declaring this unconstitutional,” he says. “We’re also proceeding with our court application to obtain the minutes of the committee’s meetings prior to 2018. We need to understand how deep this cancer goes and we need to make sure it is never allowed to happen again.”
The ANC has yet to officially respond to the DA’s analysis of cadre deployment, which suggests party loyalty trumps competence, and identity markers like race, gender and geographic origin decide who gets appointed to positions of power.
The DA wants the Public Service Commission to determine whether illegalities have taken place – and if so, it wants all the appointments set aside.
Perhaps what will be more interesting is a precedent or two at the Labour Court with rulings in favour of candidates who were overlooked for positions because they backed the wrong party. Once that happens, the cadre deployment machine will dissolve in shards.
The fallout from this revelation will continue for months and perhaps years, as cadre deployments are challenged in courts, and in the media.
These appointments cannot be divorced from the billions of rands stolen and the breakdown in public service delivery that went into the pockets of a few thousand lucky winners. What these minutes appear to show is a rot so systemic that even corruption-fatigued South Africans will have a hard time appreciating just how decrepit things have become.