Separation of politics from the South African public service : rhetoric or reality?

18 Mar 2008

This paper addresses the question of whether senior public servants should be political or non-political when performing their duties. This debate has long been a central concern in the literature of United States of America from the beginning of public administration, and remains so to this day. It is also the case in South Africa, especially after the ANC assumed power in 1994. The ANC has deployed some of its members to key public service positions with a view of promoting loyalty and service delivery. This paper addresses this issue in the context of the politics-administration dichotomy. Models, which describe and analyse the relationship between politics and administration are identified. These models are dichotomy model/depoliticized bureaucracy, politicized bureaucracy model, model of complementarity, the British permanent model and the American hybrid model. This paper recognizes a need for “political appointments” (politicized bureaucracy) within the public service due to a threat, real or perceived, of political sabotage by disloyal incumbents of the previous dispensation. After a threat of political sabotage diminishes the government should then introduce the complementarity model, with more emphasis on the principle of merit, which is emphasized in the British permanent model and to a certain extent, the American hybrid model. State institutions supporting constitutional democracy should act independently against corrupt public functionaries who abuse “political appointments” for their own personal purposes.