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On 29 May, Dr Mbongiseni Buthelezi spoke to radio talkshow host Eusebius McKaiser about the need to reform the public service, with reference to PARI’s #AfterCapture campaign. Read Cape Talk’s write up here, or listen to the recorded interview and excellent call-in discussion.


Political influence has hampered the South African public service, says Dr Mbongiseni Buthelezi. Dr Buthelezi is the research manager at the Public Affairs Research Institute (Pari).He says government has not done enough to successfully professionalise public service in SA. According to Dr Buthelezi, political influence has the ability to paralyse public administration. He says many professionals are leaving the public service to work abroad or join the private sector. Dr Buthelezi argues that public administrators fear speaking up against politicians and calls for a change in organisational culture.

He adds that the National School of Government has not been effectively used to train public servants.

  • Overall, there’s a lot more work that still needs to be done to bring coherence to how public servants are trained how the public service is professionalised.
  • The National School of Government is meant to be the training ground for the South African public service, but it’s not fully functionally in the way that it was conceived to be.
  • We need professional bureaucrats who know their job and know the day-to-day tasks and can do them well.
  • There is perhaps too much politics in bureaucracy and state administration.
  • The task is having a public debate with political parties in South Africa about how we build a professional public service and how to limit the influence of politics in bureaucracy.
  • There are a lot of very good public servants who a trying to do their jobs in very difficult environments.
  • Politicians are reaching into the public service in ways that compromise the public service and drives out very good public servants.
  • What is it going to take to get to a point where a Life Esidemeni doesn’t happen? Life Esidimeni happened because politicians took a decision that went against what professionals in the health department knew.
Dr Mbongiseni Buthelezi, Research Manager at Pari

He discusses perceptions about working for government and the limits to and opportunities for improvement.