The past few weeks have been the most dramatic period in the history of South Africa in the post-1994 period. With the election of Kgalema Motlanthe as the new President and the appointment of his Cabinet, relative calm has returned to the South African political landscape. However, many of the issues which have contributed to the developments of recent weeks will continue to shape and re-shape the national political scene in the run-up to the 2009 elections.
Linked to the changes in South Africa’s political landscape is the ongoing call by trade unions and various political and civil society formations for a change in macro-economic policy and the adoption of more pro-poor policies.
The new government inherits significant development challenges and pressure is mounting for increased service delivery and intensified efforts in the fight against poverty and unemployment.
A key factor in this regard is the people and state institutions entrusted with the responsibility of leading development efforts in the country.
Unfortunately, as much as there are calls for more social spending and government development interventions, state institutions with a development mandate are more often than not part of the problem and not the solution.
In recent weeks the CEOs of two national development agencies, the Small Enterprise Development Agency (SEDA) and Universal Service and Access Agency of South Africa (USAASA), were fired or suspended for incompetence or misconduct. This follows the scandals and corruption at the Land Bank earlier this year, incompetence at the National Lottery Board in distributing funds to NGOs and community organisations, and frequent allegations of misconduct and corruption at various SETAs, provincial development agencies and local government structures.
These incidents raise serious questions about the integrity and intent of the people entrusted with guiding development efforts in the country. Furthermore, it raises similar questions about the people responsible for making these appointments.
What has happened to the notion that development work needs to be underpinned by a sense of commitment, ethics and serving others? What are these incidents telling us about the urgency with which government is tackling the development challenges facing our country?
One can only hope that the same urgency with which the political landscape is being transformed will also apply to government development agencies.