New SA government should address the needs of the people

Emmanuel Koro, Correspondent

On May 29, South Africans voted to demand significant improvements in the provision of jobs, electricity, water, housing and flushing toilets.

They also want better health services and education. They are clearly tired of rising crime and endless corruption.

Concurrently, an American political observer has expressed the hope that South Africa now chooses wisely in selecting the politicians who will govern their country for the next five years.

“I hope they choose ministers who understand the difference between government and governing,” stated Mr Godfrey Harris, an American political expert and former advisor to the 36th U.S. President Lyndon Johnson. “Government is usually associated with what bureaucrats manage while governing is what politicians are meant to do.”

Mr Harris noted that the role of party leadership in South Africa is to choose ministers who are politicians intent on providing the best of governance for their constituencies, not for themselves or the bureaucrats.

Mr Harris pointed out that there is a vast difference between government and governing.

“In a democracy, government is a collection of mechanisms through which the policies desired by the people are carried out fairly,” he said. “The mechanisms provide the means by which public services are delivered to the people.”

Governments, he noted, devise and follow precise procedures, rules , regulations and laws to provide for the uniform delivery of goods and services in which no one has a presumed advantage.

Governing, on the other hand, involves determining priorities — “what should get done, when, at what cost and by whom?”

“It is as simple as this: Politics provide the direction, energy and lubrication that makes government work,” said Mr Harris.

He warned against putting government ahead of governing. When that happens, the delivery of services usually fails. Waiting to be able to serve all the people at the same time along with the paper work required usually delays the action that citizens need.

Meanwhile, Mr Harris offered a U.S. case study to show how governing can work so much more successfully when it firmly controls the government agencies involved.

Serious crime on the public transportation system in Los Angeles has become a major problem. Bus and subway passengers, as well as drivers, have recently been hit with a number of stabbings, severely discouraging usage of the system.

The bureaucrats at the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority — the government agency managing the buses and trains — told the public “not to worry, overall crime on the buses and subways has decreased over the last 5 years.”

“Your chances of getting hit by lightning are higher than being assaulted while riding a bus,” claimed the government agency.

But passengers are not protected by statistics; they need real protection from the knives appearing in the hands of random people. No one believed for an instance that the government agency had everything in hand, as it claimed.

As a result, Mayor Karen Bass of Los Angeles (an experienced and competent politician) called a press conference to announce a surge in police officers being assigned to trains, buses and stations.

She said if you don’t see uniformed officers when you are waiting for a bus or train, or riding on them, call her office. This offered measurable and instant assurances to those using the system that their safety was a priority.

Mayor Bass said she was determined to bring the incidents of violent crime to zero because she realises that when crime is zero, ridership will start growing again.

That is the difference between governing and government. The former is sensitive to the voters and their attitudes and needs. The latter is wrapped up in organisational memos, boxes, files, rules, and numbers.

Therefore, politicians are apt to recognise issues and act to solve them quicker than job-protecting government bureaucrats who “generally tend to start problem solving by avoiding blame for any problem that arises.”

Mr Harris added that he is anxious to know if South Africa’s next government would be controlled by experienced politicians looking after their constituencies’ interests or by hold-over bureaucrats looking after the politicians and themselves?

“I hope some new political faces are involved with South Africa’s governance,” said Mr Harris.


“They feel what the people feel and try to give the people what they need from government,” he said.

Mcebisi Ndletyana

Similarly, Mcebisi Ndletyana, the author of the Anatomy of the ANC in Power: Insights from Port Elizabeth, 1990 – 2019 (HSRC, 2020), shares some of Mr Harris’ views. He also saw South African politicians worrying more about appointing those loyal to the government rather than those with the highest governing skills.

In a recent article published in The Conversation, Ndletyana narrates how post-apartheid South Africa’s politicians continued with the apartheid government’s system of appointing government employees on loyalty grounds. The ANC leaders gave scarce consideration to their job skills. The result was delayed and failed delivery of government services.

“Some senior [government] executives, as we now hear from testimony at the Zondo Commission on State Capture, caved in because they got a share of the favours they bestowed on their principals,” said Ndletyana. “Other bureaucrats carried out irregular instructions due to close personal relations with their political bosses.”

Mr Harris said that the problem “with South Africa’s ANC-dominated government of the past is that the politicians don’t stay in their lanes”— setting policy and interacting with voters.

“They tend to interfere with the roles of the bureaucrats by inappropriately dictating how the policies are to be implemented,” noted Mr Harris. “This has fomented corruption, corruption foments inefficiencies, and inefficiencies foment unhappy publics and governments that don’t work.”

*About the writer: Emmanuel Koro is a Johannesburg-based international award-winning environmental journalist who writes independently on environmental and developmental issues in Africa.

You Might Also Like