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‘I am no longer applying straight’ – Human Resource Practices in State Institutions: Perspectives of public servants

By Joel Pearson and Thatshisiwe Ndlovu

Appointment, promotion and placement of officials in positions within government administrations is the subject of intense daily discourse by those working within the state and political organisations. It is highly contested, attracting frequent accusations of impropriety and unfairness. In particular, the role of political functionaries in determining human resource processes has attracted furious debate. Concepts like ‘cadre deployment’ and ‘political appointment’ have come to be frequently used in a pejorative sense – perhaps especially during the tenure of President Jacob Zuma. The revelations over ‘state capture’ that proliferated in the media during the final years of Zuma’s term have particularly enflamed these discussions, and polarized what the limits of political influence should be when it comes to human resource practices in the state.

This report seeks to contribute to these debates by presenting the experiences of officials within state institutions themselves. Many of these narratives unravel the simple assumptions that have arisen in diagnosing human resource problems afflicting the state in the post-Zuma era. These narratives are the vehicle by which commonly-shared experiences and perceptions are elaborated, and areas of disagreement and contest are brought into relief. While contestation unfolds over appointment decisions in different ways, depending on the institutional context, what these narratives together confirm is that such contests can have destructive effects on institutional stability, employee wellbeing and the effectiveness of the state in fulfilling its service delivery mandate.