On the issue of slate politics in the ruling party, perhaps the time has come for the party to consider a policy that limits the reach of this mechanism somehow. This is a matter for ANC members to contend with. As for the ordinary folk, slate politics within the “top six” of the ruling party should not be as much of a bother as it should be its effects once a government administration is put in place after the general elections.
In political science, by definition a “slate” is simply a list of candidates to be considered for nomination by a political party for elections, appointments, or the like. This is a general definition. From an ANC perspective, a slate can be defined as a list of candidates to be nominated by particular factions for appointment into the top leadership positions of the party.
Slates in the ANC are driven by strong underlying political dynamics of the day and they are hotly contested. They can stretch from the initial top six positions down to the top 97 positions that span the entire national executive committee (NEC) of the party. These top positions comprise the men and women in whose hands (and whatsoever whims) the future of this country lies for the next five years and further. This is obviously serious business.
But, as noted that from the perspective of ordinary people, we should worry more about how internal ANC slate politics manifest in the formation and running of the government. Let’s face it, slates are wild and pervasive in the government structures and the proper term for it is cronyism. These slates exist in ubiquitous form, and the mess with them, in contrast to within the party, is that they are not positively declared.
Therefore, folks, if any leader should pass through the so-called “eye of a needle” it should certainly be so in government too. As a nation we must find ways to limit political slates in government as a matter of unwavering policy. Due to practical nuances, each of us may have a different take on the level at which this limit should be imposed. Nevertheless the principle is clear, and it is not new either: we need far more technocrats than politicians in the middle to lower structures of government and in the leadership of those structures, period!
There are of course the pros and cons. The immediate trouble with curbing slates, at any level, will always be the principal-agency problem. “Agents”, no allusion to “bloody agents”, appointed by “principals” will act rationally in their self-interests, at times not to the wishes of the principals, thereby circumventing the process in the first place. Director-generals are agents of cabinet ministers, the president is the principal of cabinet ministers, and hey presto, the people are the principals of the president!
Principal-agency is a classic problem and we won’t waste much effort in the analysis-paralysis of its composition except to say, as the people, we must not stand by the fence and allow this agency to run away with it.
Furthermore on the pros and cons, it should be safe to say that for any leadership team executing a set mandate requires some significant comfort that there is loyalty within the team as well as coherence in ideology and policy perspective. The converse of course is that slate politics taken to excess tend to marginalise individuals who are otherwise the best at the tasks at hand.
Hence, going forward, if we are serious about having capable people in relevant positions in charge of national matters, the policy debate in this regard must press ever hard for a review of the current extent of political slates. Among other things, the debate must deliberate not just on limiting the inefficacies of this mechanism, or building on the efficacies of it, or addressing the debilitating effects of agency, it must also deliberate on how to actually get it done and dusted without relying too much on the political leaders to effect this change. Ultimately this kind of change is a people matter because political leaders are, to begin with, already rationally consolidated by this slate mechanism.
All indications thus far is that any politician, or shall we say any agent, will always have a degree to which they will act rationally in their self-interests. These self-interests are guaranteed in the politics of slates. Much of this has to do with the so-called “phuma si’ngene” political catfights in 21st century ANC politics.
A faction presents itself as the new force to reckon with and therefore applies the principle that you are either part of this lot or you are out — and “out” could mean for as long as they are in. The lot that wins at the elective conference will see it fit to exclude, more often than not, members who were not part of their slate. This happens perhaps as much out of spite or hatred of members outside of their slate as it does precisely because their slate is already committed. This should explain why Joel Netshitenzhe, a respected thinker in that movement, and a member of then Mbeki’s administration, was relegated down the pecking order and barely made it into the current NEC. The same cannot be said of other capable members who had to kiss their NEC membership goodbye.
The observation is unambiguous: what is needed is a pioneering government. As to what the top six do in their daily humdrum of party administrative tasks is just a few steps in the thousands of steps their agents will walk in the five years they will be in charge of the government.
Of late a lot has been said about organisational renewal in the ruling party. Reconsidering the slate mechanism, not just within the party but more importantly in government, can be one such focus area for a renewal. This will probably be hard to come by when the leaders are dyed-in-the-wool political animals who see slates as an inexorable part of their careerist ambitions. This then shall have to be one of the pertinent challenges of our times.