New Report Highlights the Challenge of Professionalizing South Africa’s Public Service


In collaboration with the Daily Maverick and supported by Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung, the New South Institute organized a webinar to launch “Personalising and Depersonalising Power” report. The report emphasizes building an autonomous administration based on merit to avoid corruption and promote democracy in South Africa’s public service. It highlights the urgent need for an impartial and effective administration to serve people’s needs without political interference.

In addition to highlighting the legislative and jurisprudential move towards strengthening the political conditions for the appointment of public officials, the report also stresses the need to institutionalise the assessment of managerial competencies. This is essential to ensure that the restriction of political discretion is translated into improved public service delivery.

South Africa’s struggle with corruption, nepotism and lack of accountability in the public service is hampering its ability to build a non-racial, non-sexist society based on democratic values and respect for human rights. The report emphasises the need to build an autonomous civil service, which is fundamental to strengthening the functioning of democratic institutions and preventing the abuse of power. It contextualises the appointment of public officials in South Africa against the legacy of apartheid, which denied civil and political rights to the majority. The Constitution grants broad powers to transform the state apparatus and build a non-racial, non-sexist society, but the separation between the political and administrative spheres is not clearly defined, allowing political criteria to dominate public appointments.

While recognising and welcoming the legislative and jurisprudential move to strengthen the policy conditions for the appointment of public officials, the report emphasises the need for further action. It recommends the institutionalisation of policy conditions that promote the assessment of managerial competencies as a precondition for the appointment of executive officers in the public service. This is crucial to ensure that limits on political discretion translate into better public service delivery.

Ivor Chipkin, Michelle Le Roux and Rafael Leite’s report ‘Personalising and Depersonalising Power’ is a crucial call to action for anyone interested in promoting good governance in South Africa and strengthening the capacity of the state to deliver what citizens need, thereby fostering trust in democracy. The fact that nearly five hundred people were in attendance at the report’s launch is a reflection of the high level of interest in this issue. The report underscores the need for South Africa to build a professional civil service that operates on merit, serves the needs of the people, and takes bold steps to build an impartial and effective administration free from excessive political interference. Policy makers, civil society organisations and citizens who want to promote transparency, accountability and good governance in South Africa’s public service must read this report.

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