Cabinet has adopted a policy framework that ditches the African National Congress's (ANC's) controversial cadre deployment policy, which was slammed by the Zondo Commission as a key driver of state capture, and described as unconstitutional.
The Democratic Alliance (DA) has hailed this as a ground-breaking victory in its fight against cadre deployment, adding that government had now adopted a DA policy.
On 19 October, Cabinet adopted the national framework toward the implementation of professionalisation of the public sector.
President Cyril Ramaphosa's implementation plan on the Zondo Commission's recommendations states: "A key mechanism of state capture was the strategic positioning of individuals in positions of power through the abuse of public sector appointment and dismissal processes. This was in contravention of the Constitution and applicable legislation."
According to Ramaphosa, a key mechanism to address this is the national framework. "
The framework makes specific proposals to stabilise the political-administrative interface, ensure merit-based recruitment and selection and more effective consequence management.
All public sector legislation governing professionalisation will be reviewed and, where necessary, amended to align with this framework," reads the implementation plan.
The framework actually goes further than what is stated in the implementation plan, clearly distancing government from cadre deployment.
"The cadre deployment practices must be reconsidered for merit-based recruitment and selection in the public sector," reads the framework's executive summary, where it lists "fundamental public sector reforms".
Under the heading "High level proposals for implementing professionalisation in the public sector", the framework states: "Recruitment and selection practices based on deployment have gained notoriety which has spawned cynicism.
"Some even questioned their constitutionality related to the principle of equality, and they may have a point if deployment practices are to be looked at from the perspective of Section 197 (3) of the Constitution, which states that 'no employee of the Public Service may be favoured or prejudiced only because that person supports a particular political party or cause'.
"The recommendation that the panel is making is that deployment practices ought to be ditched in favour of a merit-based recruitment and selection system, which it regards as key to building a capable, ethical and developmental state.
This also contributes toward changing a surging negative public perception about employment practices in the public service.
Other countries have a position similar to that of a DG [director-general] or HoD [head of department] which is termed a permanent secretary, who is always politically non-partisan."
The proposal also states the following in a list of proposals: "Merit-based recruitment and selection: Recommendation that deployment practices are to be ditched in favour of a merit-based recruitment and selection system, which it regards as key in building a capable, ethical, and developmental state and is also about contributing toward changing a surging negative public perception about employment practices in the public sector.
In a merit-based system of recruitment and selection, well-qualified candidates with capability to perform a public function would still make it anyway without any political shore up."
Curiously, Ramaphosa was silent on government rejecting cadre deployment when he addressed the nation on Sunday evening on his implementation plan. Last week, a special ANC national executive committee (NEC) meeting heard that Chief Justice Raymond Zondo "got things wrong" and "recommended things beyond his scope" in his report on state capture.
ANC NEC member, and former Cabinet member Jeff Radebe, presented a report to the meeting on after leading a task team considering the Zondo report.
A source said the task team led by Radebe had taken exception to Zondo's finding that its cadre deployment policy was unlawful and unconstitutional, News24 reported last week.
The DA has been on a crusade to end cadre deployment and applied to the court to have the policy declared unlawful, based on similar grounds that Zondo made in his findings, despite their application being launched weeks before the final report was issued.
The case will be heard on 23 and 24 January.
The ANC and Ramaphosa - in his capacity as president of the country, rather than that of the governing party - oppose the application.
In his responding affidavit, ANC treasurer-general Paul Mashatile said the ANC was not bound by the Constitution or the commission's findings, while Ramaphosa contradicted the commission's findings, arguing that cadre deployment did not break the Constitution or Public Service Act.
DA MP Leon Schreiber, who leads the party's campaign against cadre deployment, will now urgently write to Ramaphosa to request him to rescind his opposition to the DA's court application.
"The reality is that his own Cabinet has now endorsed the DA's legal position that cadre deployment must be 'ditched'. It is therefore hypocritical and completely untenable for Ramaphosa and his Cabinet to continue opposing our court case," said Schreiber.
"The fact is that 'ditching' cadre deployment is now official government policy taken straight out of the DA manifesto.
This means that our court case to uproot this practice becomes, in fact, an effort to implement the government's new policy.
It is a legal absurdity for the president to oppose his own government's policy."
Schreiber said he would also write to National Assembly Speaker Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula to request that his End Cadre Deployment Private Member's Bill be reintroduced.
Last month, the ANC contingent on the Portfolio Committee on Public Service and Administration shot down the Bill, with committee chairperson and ANC MP Tyotyo James remarking: "Unfortunately, Judge Zondo is not governing on our behalf."
"In light of the adoption of DA policy as government policy in this regard, it is in the interest of the public that the portfolio committee reconsiders this bill in the context of DA policy now being government policy," Schreiber said.
He added that he regarded the adoption of the framework as the "single most significant public policy breakthrough for South Africa since 1994".