Balancing Political Influence and Merit-based Appointments in South African Public Service


In the ongoing debate on public service appointments in South Africa, the challenge lies in reconciling political discretion and merit-based appointments. The country’s constitution, which granted broad powers to the incumbent administration to transform the state apparatus, aimed to dismantle the oppressive legacy of Apartheid. However, it has left senior appointments vulnerable to political influence.

The New South Institute (NSI) is pleased to share an insightful article published in the renowned online journal, Global Government Forum (GGF), by our Research Fellow, Rafael Leite, and Executive Director, Ivor Chipkin. The article, titled “Political influence or merit-based appointments? How South Africa can resolve the tension over top public service jobs,” discusses the implications of the African National Congress’s controversial “cadre deployment” policy and its consequences for public administration.

The authors highlight the findings of the New South Institute’s recently launched report, “Personalising and De-personalising Power“, which examines the legislative and regulatory rules for the appointment of senior civil servants in key state institutions. They propose potential remedies for the current situation, including strengthening the merit protection system, professionalising recruitment and candidate evaluation processes, and establishing an independent commission to oversee appointment procedures.

Emphasizing the importance of a context-sensitive approach to reform, the article suggests that South Africa needs to be grounded in the political economy of the country. This approach will be crucial for developing tailored, context-sensitive strategies that draw on the experiences of countries with similar levels of development and bureaucratic maturity.

We invite you to read the full article on the Global Government Forum’s website and join the conversation on how to build a more effective and merit-based public service system in South Africa and beyond. Follow this link to access the article.

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