President Cyril Ramaphosa. FILE PHOTO: GCIS

PRESIDENT Cyril Ramaphosa has defended the ANC’s Cadre Deployment policy, saying it is aimed at ensuring that the person most fit-for-purpose is appointed in whatever critical position has been identified.

He said cadre deployment cannot be faulted in principle; it is a common feature of democratic practice around the world. “But we would concede that there are weaknesses in its practical implementation that make the case for greater clarity, both within political parties and the state,” he said.

“Ultimately, political involvement in the administration of the public service must be circumscribed by legislation, convention and practice. We should do so to protect both political and administrative positions and to create certainty as to the division between political and administrative responsibility.”

Ramaphosa, who is appearing before the State Capture for the first time, says the cadre deployment  applies to senior positions in government such as Directors-Generals and Deputy Directors-General, as well as the leadership in critical institutions including the private sector.

“It should be noted that the deployment of cadres to strategic positions is not unique to the ANC. It is practised in various forms and through various mechanisms — even if not always acknowledged as such — by other political parties in SA and in other countries,” said Ramaphosa.

“In our view, cadre deployment has acquired such prominence in part because of the perspective that there should be no political interference in the selection of people who work in the public sector. However, international practice suggests a more nuanced approach to this matter.”

Ramaphosa told the inquiry it took time for the ANC to recognise high-level corruption during the period, but that he would not try to “make excuses or to defend the indefensible”.

He did not mention former president Jacob Zuma by name.

“We all acknowledge that the organisation could and should have done more to prevent the abuse of power and the misappropriation of resources that defined the era of state capture,” he said.

Ramaphosa added that “corrosive corruption” had hurt the ANC’s support among voters, six months before local government elections at which the party will look to improve on its worst election results since the end of apartheid.

Opposition parties held a gathering outside the building where the inquiry was being held and participants said Ramaphosa should personally shoulder some of the blame.

“Ramaphosa was part and parcel of the decisions. He was the deputy president of the country when money disappeared,” said William Madisha, a lawmaker with small party COPE. “The ANC must pay back what belongs to the people.”

Ramaphosa, the ANC’s deputy leader from 2012 to 2017 and deputy president from 2014 until 2018, has made the fight against graft one of his calling cards.

After he won a closely fought battle for the ANC leadership against Zuma’s ex-wife in December 2017, his allies in the party engineered Zuma’s ouster, allowing him to take over as head of state in February 2018, before Zuma’s second five-year term was due to end.

He trod cautiously at the start of his presidency as a faction in the ANC remained loyal to Zuma, but has grown increasingly assertive.

At a March meeting of the party’s National Executive Committee, his supporters pushed through tighter disciplinary measures for members implicated in corruption and other serious crimes.

A key test of those stricter rules will be whether Secretary-General Ace Magashule, seen as a Zuma loyalist, vacates his post in the coming days because of corruption charges. Magashule denies the charges but at the end of March the party gave him and others charged with serious crimes a 30-day deadline to “step aside”.

Over several days of testimony at the inquiry, Ramaphosa is expected to be asked what he knew about allegedly corrupt practices while serving alongside Zuma and why he did not act to stop them.

The inquiry was set up during Zuma’s final weeks in office. Zuma appeared at it briefly in 2019 but defied a summons and court order to give more evidence earlier this year. The inquiry’s lawyers are seeking Zuma’s imprisonment as a result.

  • Inside Politics. Additional reporting by Reuters.
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