THE battle for the soul of our government is being fought. The signs of tension between the old and the new become glaringly evident. The people want change.
They want to know that their children will have a brighter future. Yet those whose duty it is to serve the nation through public administration remain beholden to the ways of old. The debate of whether South Africa should have gone to war to destroy the apartheid state and rebuild it from scratch holds currency, especially 23 years into democracy as the structure of the economy has not changed.
Political commentators would question whether a revolution took place when nothing of state structure changed. Reflecting on Egypt’s Arab Spring, Paul Marfleet in his book, Egypt: Contested Revolution, questions whether there was a revolution when much of the state from before the fall of Hosni Mubarak remains intact today.
Egyptians, Marfleet said, have merely replaced one dictator with another, both having been propped up by the military. When one studies the institutions of South Africa, one realises that, like Egypt, not much has changed since the fall of apartheid.
The state continues to work for you if you are part of the privileged minority. Today that privileged minority is not based on race but on class. For the vast majority of black South Africans, in particular Africans and coloureds, as is evident by statistics provided by Statistics South Africa, the state is not working for them.
They are not able to access or receive support needed from the state, whereas whites and the handful of blacks who have made it into the upper classes have a less troublesome experience of the state.
The tragedy is the state is neglecting the people who need it to function for all the most. Compounded with this is the role played by un-elected bureaucrats in making transformation work in South Africa or not. The public service is one area of the state where a thorough discussion and transformation has not occurred after apartheid.
We have replaced white with black faces but we have not necessarily changed the institutional culture of the public service. As a result, Batho Pele (People First) principles are likely to be practised in areas where the wealthy and white stay than clinics, police stations and welfare offices in townships.
The recent 12 telephone missed calls by Police Deputy Minister Bongi Mkongi to the Langa police station is one such example. Had he called Mowbray or Rondebosch police station the response would have been almost immediate – even though both stations have mostly black police personnel.
As a result, the areas or people that need the services and goods of the state the most are the ones often neglected. Poor teaching practices by teachers often occur in poor areas with poor schools. Municipal services such as decent sanitation and the provision of electricity and water are worse in areas worse off.
No matter how long the granny has been waiting at the clinic to get medication, when it’s lunch time, it’s lunch time. Transformation or even decolonisation of the state must occur within our public sector.
How is it that whenever black public servants deliver poor services it is often in black communities? As a result, this lack of transformation and working for the privileged few only results in a public service that is fundamentally anti-poor.
They are not just anti-black but they remain anti-poor and anti-black. Two examples exist in our national narrative. The first is the backlash from bureaucrats, who are accountable to the people’s representatives, in respect of the rumoured fees proposal by President Jacob Zuma.
The proposal, touted by an acquaintance of Zuma’s daughter, is attributed to Zuma. It has resulted in the head of budgeting at the national Treasury, Michael Sachs, resigning.
The notion that university education should be free to poor, black students is anathema to Sachs and his ilk and, therefore they never took proposals seriously or even considered, on their own, where cuts could be made in order to facilitate free education.
Instead of devising a plan, they resign in protest because a public good is de-commodified. The second example of anti-poor and therefore anti-black tendencies within our public service is the coolness with which the National Heath Insurance scheme has been met and now shelved.
Reports from the Davis Tax Commission suggest there is no money for the complete rollout of the NHI, which benefits the poor. While the commission does propose some increases in taxes to fund the scheme, it is certain bureaucrats from the old dispensation will frown upon this increase in tax.
Yet this is the double tragedy. It is not bureaucrats from the old dispensation that persist with this anti-poor attitude rather it is cadres deployed who have adopted apartheidlike attitudes in their pursuance of public service.
Instead of ensuring that they work to propose policies and programmes that will uplift our people, they have maintained the status quo and have done nothing different from what the apartheid government did.
There is a need to ensure that capable cadres are deployed in order to build a capable state that works for the poor.
Wesley Seale is a politics lecturer at Rhodes University and a PhD candidate at Beijing University