By Janine Erasmus

Nepotism, cadre deployment, patronage, cronyism – we hear those terms often, but what do they mean, not just literally, but for South Africa? Why are these practices so harmful, especially in the public sector?

Read our new two-part series to better understand the consequences of not employing the right person for the job. Today’s part one is followed tomorrow by the second and final part.

Let us start with the definitions:

  • Nepotism is the bestowing of jobs and other favours in business or politics, on the basis of a family relationship first and consideration to the suitability of the appointee for the job second.
  • Cronyism is much the same, except that it’s friends who are the lucky recipients of such favours.
  • Patronage happens when a powerful person awards jobs and other favours to people who have supported his political campaign or party.
  • Cadre deployment is the practice of appointing loyal party members into an independent or government institution or body as a means of keeping control of that institution. The cadre is accountable to the party and the party comes first – sometimes even before the law, the Constitution, and the public. Cadre deployment differs from cadre employment. It’s often confused with patronage and cronyism.

Corruption Watch has seen its fair share of reports alleging these practices – they make up 9% of all corruption reports we’ve received that are related to employment, and describe mainly irregularities and nepotism involving family and close friends (political affiliation is not mentioned).

What’s more, 4% of all employment corruption reported to us relates to the deployment of union members, while 3% has to do with the deployment of members of a political party.

“The ANC XXX Secretary instructed the interview panel to score [the new municipal manager] high and his qualifications were not verified. He lacks management skills, integrity and is seriously misleading Council, manages the municipality with fear which led to the collapse of Municipal administration and service delivery,” wrote one reporter. “He succeeded in obtaining resignations so that he can replace them with his people … he ensured that all appointment of departmental heads are filled with his cronies.”

The implications of all of this are that people may end up in positions – important positions – for which they are neither suitable nor qualified. This immediately compromises the effectiveness of that position and more broadly, that institution, as can be seen in the example above.

Being a form of corruption, these practices allow people to abuse their positions of power in order to engage in nepotism, cronyism and the like, dishing out favours left and right. As if that wasn’t enough, those lower down in the ranks, who may have tendencies towards unethical behaviour, would be encouraged in these tendencies by leadership’s visible flouting of the rules. Hence more corruption might breed.

Ethics also suffers

“Fairness is a core ethical value,” says Cynthia Schoeman, MD of Ethics Monitor, “and these practices fly completely in the face of the whole concept of fairness.”

Because good ethics is underpinned by fairness, any deviation from this concept will have potentially harmful consequences.

“When these practices are condoned – maybe not necessarily approved – by senior leadership, I don’t think the observer would make a distinction between being it condoned and approved,” says Schoeman. “They’d simply say ‘Well, in this organisation it’s ok’. This undermines not only staff morale, but also the commitment to the organisation’s policies and procedures. It unquestionably undermines commitment to that company’s values, because fairness has gone straight out the window.”

Where leadership is aware of these practices and has allowed them, says Schoeman, respect for that leadership is also undermined. “Plentiful research has shown that leadership is not the only factor, but it is the most impactful factor in terms of driving and promoting ethical conduct.”

This erosion of ethical standards can make it easier for the observer to turn to dishonest practices, if they have those tendencies. It certainly doesn’t mean that the average ethical employee is suddenly going to become rampantly unethical, but it does open that door because senior management has created an questionable example that is acceptable within the organisation.

Not only that, but the presence of the person appointed through unethical practices is a glaring reminder of such to other staff, with a demoralising effect.

One aspect that is not considered as often, says Schoeman, is the negative effect on the employee who benefited. “They will be starting on the back foot. Irrespective of whether they do have some competence, it will be assumed that the reasons for their employment will be unrelated to their competence, ability or experience. The damage to the individual is the part that we sometimes forget.”

Even should the employee prove themselves over time, it might be too late, notes Schoeman. “The short-term benefit of getting the job is overshadowed by the long-term challenge of redeeming and proving oneself.”

Should recruitment involve a family member, friend, political associate, and they are deemed to be the right person for the job, recruiters should be willing to jump through hoops, says Schoeman, to make the process hyper-transparent, and to give the successful applicant the best start to their new career.

“Take the case of Dina Pule and her not-business associate, not-boyfriend,” says Schoeman wryly. “She should have set the ethical example and said: ‘The interests I am serving are the interests of the government, this department, and the people of South Africa. If someone close to me wants to pitch for that tender, I will recuse myself and let an impartial person make the final decision.’ Then the process can lead to a free and fair outcome.”

In mid-2013 Pule was dismissed from her Cabinet position during a reshuffle, reprimanded by Parliament, and subjected to penalties, as a result of the scandal involving her boyfriend and a few million rands. She had “gravely undermined the people’s trust and brought this House into disrepute,” said then-speaker Max Sisulu.

Friends with benefits?

Cadre deployment – government-related, in this case – is another practice that has its detractors. It is widely seen as having the potential to undermine capacity and affect service delivery, good governance, and other factors crucial to South Africa’s smooth forward momentum and the satisfaction of its citizens.

“Appointing the wrong people to top posts permeates entire organisations, not only because top leadership is unsuitable but also because it interferes with incentive structures that reward officials who do the best job,” write Kevin Allan and Karen Heese on the website of Municipal IQ, which measures municipal performance across a range of socio-economic and financial issues.

The authors add that even though a cadre may be suitably skilled, the fact that they are appointed on that basis, rather than merit, still poses a problem. Politics becomes that person’s main focus, rather than the job.

Another concern, write Allan and Heese, is that when an appointee is not wholly committed to their job, outsourcing of responsibilities becomes more attractive – giving corrupt service providers a foot in the door.

“The auditor-general’s recent findings on the widespread inadequacy of supply chain processes and rising levels of irregular expenditure all fit into the downward spiral of influence trumping competence,” they conclude.

The ANC has defended its stance, saying that it makes no sense to appoint people who are “hostile to the position” of the party – even if they are competent and qualified (more so, presumably, than the cadre).

The party has also made it clear that there must be no political influence in the selection and appointment of such people – which seems to contradict the previous notion that only ANC loyalists would be considered for positions.

However, a Corruption Watch reporter wrote to us regarding a friend who had applied for a job at a Northern Cape municipality: “They told him that if he wanted to work with them he would have to join the ANC and only then will he be given work. He ended up doing this because work is scarce and he is hungry … they just bullied him into joining the ANC.”

Again, the cadre is at a disadvantage, says Gavin Davis of the office of the premier in the Western Cape, because “no matter who or how many people vouch for the deployed cadre, there will always be a question mark over his or her conduct precisely because he or she has been deployed as a cadre”.

Research shows a majority of South Africans agree that the government has been weakened by corruption of this and other kinds – the 2013 Transparency International Global Corruption Barometer showed that 87% of respondents believe that the government is entirely, largely or somewhat run by a few big entities acting in their own interests. A worrying 74% felt that public officials and civil servants were corrupt or extremely corrupt.

“There are many claims of innocence in this regard, because often it’s a case of ‘it’s my decision to make’,” says Schoeman. “At a human level, one can understand the temptation if you’re the one who can give out that fabulous job, and your brother is desperate. But it’s about having the courage to say that, although the job is in theory yours to give, the requirements override everything else. It doesn’t exclude people you know, but then the process must be especially transparent.”

Part two of our short series deals with the moral dilemma of loyalty vs honesty, and explains why appointing unqualified people can end up costing a lot of money.



Nepotism, cadre deployment, patronage, cronyism – we hear those terms often, but what do they mean, not just literally, but for South Africa? Read our new two-part series to better understand the consequences of not employing the best-qualified person for the job.
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