Africans doing it for themselves

Thursday, June 22, 2017

By Faith Muthambi

On the 27th of April in 1994, South Africans from all walks of life were enjoined even though a majority of them were voting for the first time ever.  Armed with hope and optimism, they placed a mark next to their favourite political party.  Looking back at those manifestos, one is struck by the commonalities, particularly as it relates to the type of public service that will be required in a democratic and free South Africa. 

The Governing Party, African National Congress in its Ready to Govern Document, sought a “properly trained [civil service]…to deal effectively with development and government challenges”. 

Ready to Govern further observes that this will require a “nationally coordinated training effort” and should “include capacity building in communities to enable them to effectively participate in local structures and policy development processes”.  These aspirations were to find themselves in the Constitution of the Republic which in the Bill of Rights “promote[s] an efficient administration” and in Chapter on cooperative governance seeks to “secure [a development oriented public service which promotes] the well-being of the people of the republic”, amongst others.  Chapter ten elaborates on the values and principles that should guide the public service amongst some of them are professional ethics and transparency. 

No doubt this outlook would have also been foremost in the minds of the African Ministers for Public or Civil Service who gathered in Tangier, Morocco on 23 June 1994 to declare that day African Public Service Day, incidentally that day also marked 23 years before the readmission of Morocco to the African Union family.  

This year’s events will be marked under the theme “Entrenching a citizen-centred service delivery culture: Partnering with the youth for Africa’s transformation” throughout our glorious continent with the continental event being hosted in Kigali Rwanda.  Given that it occurs during the year we celebrate the centenary of President OR Tambo, we will use the occasion to celebrate his life and we as the servants of the people will emulate the values of service, humility and passion, which comrade OR lived for. 

As we embark on those celebrations we ought to utilise the opportunity to reflect on the gains and challenges we have recorded as a young nation.  Amongst them are the limited gains we have recorded in the broad society in relation to the transformation of the participants and leadership in most (if not all) our economic sectors.  Take for instance the 2016/17 Commission for Employment Equity Annual Report which notes that when it comes to academia “the strategic decision making positions (Top, Senior And Professionally Qualified/middle management levels) are still male dominated whereas females are dominant at the Skilled Technical level (junior management) and the Semi-Skilled levels.”  Further evidence presented by the Commission shows that whereas Whites constitute 9.5 per cent of the workforce they represent about 68.5% of top management in our institutions. 

Africans on the other hand, constitute 78% of the Economically Active Population and a mere 14.4% of top management in these institutions.  The implications are astounding and our children who have secured the right to higher education are learning in an environment that is not reflective of our society.  The Commission also further raises a concern that “while female employees who are beneficiaries of employment equity are not increasing in representation in strategic roles… Universities play a critical role in developing a pool of suitably qualified individuals and on a yearly basis there is a large number of employment equity graduates that exit the institutions, but these individuals are not given the opportunities to become role players as employees in those institutions.”

African Public Service Day is therefore an important day, so that we may search the soul of our country and the creators of our professionals.  We will therefore use the day, and beyond, to reflect and share practical recommendations on women empowerment in public service nationally and across the continent.  In so doing we will also explore innovations, reward excellence in the public sector, motivate public servants to further promote innovation, enhance professionalism in the public service, raise the image of public service, enhance trust in government, collect, document and share best practices for possible replication within a country as well as across the African Continent.

As we do that we will also take note of the excellent and innovative work undertaken in the context of Operational Management in Limpopo, North West, KwaZulu Natal and Gauteng, which is the foundation for learning and innovation and is accessible via the web in all our provinces, barring the connectivity debate.  However, the public service by and large relies on people to people interactions by its very nature, we will therefore accelerate the adoption of the Batho Pele Norms and Standards by all our departments, especially those that are service oriented, such as the six which have now adopted the standards, that is Basic Education, Health, Human Settlements, Labour, Social Development and Transport.  In the end we aim to depart from and transform the old public service culture into one that President OR Tambo would be proud of.  This will require continuous improvement and a slick public service which optimizes decision making and systems, as envisaged by the eGovernment project, a good example being the on-going work being conducted at the Department of Home Affairs and in our driver’s license testing centres.  

The public service ought to be at the forefront of our societal transformation journey.  We must not be complacent as we mark our victories but seek to do much more with much less, through innovation.  We must take accelerative steps to move the 40.5% women’s representation in senior management positions to at least 50%, whilst also paying attention to the youth and persons with disabilities.  We will accelerate programmes that turn around the picture, which sees only 24.7% of public servants being young people by ensuring a higher absorption rate of our internship programmes and by transforming the service into an employee of choice and not last resort.  This we will do in partnership with the National Youth Development Agency.

In the end, our public service ought to be the mirror society holds up to see themselves. This African Public Service Day, spare a thought to the one million and three hundred (1,3million) public servants who are working towards that goal, whilst holding those who are not accountable for their actions to the highest of standards. Faith Muthambi is the Minister of Public Service and Administration.




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