I like Gwede Mantashe – for entertainment purposes. I like him for his political rhetoric and talent for charm, camouflage and counterfeit intelligence. But sometimes his rudder abandons him. And the tongue is already a slippery place. At the ANC’s NEC meeting at Luthuli House a few weeks ago, Mantashe flaunted the ANC’s humility over the mandate to take South Africa forward. He affirmed that the ANC was the best organisation to lead the country forward. Mantashe was doing well up until this point.

But then, in reference to existing cadre deployment, he said, “… the country needs cadres to be competent.” The statement loaded with confession made me think he had lost his marbles momentarily. He recuperated valiantly, “… the appointment of individuals to top positions in municipalities must be based on competence and not on political connections.” He found his marbles again.

Then, to my utter dismay, “… it should not be ONLY political connections; cadres must be competent." He lost his marbles the second time.

It’s unscrupulous that cadres were appointed to senior positions in the public sector in the first place; it’s reckless that they were incompetent, but suicidal that the ANC, knowingly, chose to deploy them anyway.

I wish to examine the absurdity of Mantashe’s fumbling wit.

Cadre deployment means that, without subscribing to the ruling party’s philosophies, it is unworkable to serve as a senior official in the public sector, irrespective of commitment to transformation or ability. By implication, non-cadre villains are regressive and cannot be trusted to advance the progressive ideals of democracy and equal opportunity for all. Put crudely – if non-ANC officials and technocrats for example occupy senior positions in government, then the prospect to revert to pre-1994 style administration is high.

This is hilarious. But the hilarity subsides when the opposite message is conveyed to the skilled individuals we wish to attract back home, and the intelligentsia we wish to nurture within the borders. This morbidity perpetuates mediocrity and poor work ethic, and breeds a culture of entitlement. Quite frankly, cadre deployment, even with good intentions, reeks of nepotism and distortion. It will ultimately prove to collapse our economy, which is already being chauffeured on the periphery of recession.

The NDP has summoned the urgent need for South Africa to re-professionalise the public sector. How about we start at the top?

In 2010, Newsweek stated that China’s ability to mould markets both locally and internationally was derived from its leaders being mostly engineers, who had been trained to build from a plan – eight of the nine top party officials came from engineering backgrounds. These ruling engineers presided over a system that was highly process-oriented and obsessed with performance metrics.

Singapore, an island country with no worthwhile natural minerals, has progressed to having the third highest per capita income in the world since gaining independence in 1965. A short 49 years later, it features highly in world rankings for education, healthcare and economic competitiveness. I had the opportunity to mingle with prominent Singaporean engineers, and learned that their ministers are highly educated professionals who attract premier salaries, exceeding even the salary of Barack Obama. The ruling party since 1965, the People’s Action Party, created a fundamental rule – Ministers are not allowed to have business interests while serving in government.

I think our government should follow suit.

Choosing a career in engineering is a bad move if one is motivated to make money. But it is the best career if one wants to serve society and be a custodian of our natural environment. The government – politicians and public servants – are installed by the people to serve the greater good of the people. The point I am making is this: Engineers and Government – we are on the same side.

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