n Journal of Public Administration - Re-politicizing the bureaucracy to solve apartheid's inequalities? The 'political-administrative interface' in South Africa

Special issue 1
  • ISSN : 0036-0767



This paper examines the politicisation of the senior civil service, i.e. the management positions of South Africa's public service, especially the affirmative action policy as a strategy to deal with the apartheid legacy in the country. The author argues that there is an attempt to re-politicise the current public service but that this poses a dilemma for the ruling African National Congress (ANC). 'Politicisation' is examined from three angles : politicisation as participation in the political decision-making; as partisan control over the bureaucracy; and as political involvement of public servants in a country's politics (Rouban, 2003). However, the contested meaning and lack of consensus on the 'politicisation' of the public service or public bureaucracy in South Africa is acknowledged.

To examine the 'political-administrative interface' (relationship between elected and appointed officials), the article has relied on several research methods including an analysis of official documents, policies, legislation, and media reports. The international literature on the politicisation of the civil service (especially by Suleiman, 1974, Aberbach, , 1981, and Rouban, 2003) also helped the author to understand South Africa's situation. The article's argument also relies on data from the author's recent doctoral study (Maphunye, 2002), which gave indications of the perceptions of politicisation amongst senior public servants in some government departments with strong indications amongst some that the South African public service was becoming increasingly politicised; some preferred a more professional public service as in the British tradition of the Civil Service College or the French ENA (). The paper concludes with an observation that the politicisation of the senior positions of the South African public service might be linked more to Rouban's (2003) second observation of partisan control over the bureaucracy than it is to his other two criteria. Although there is no stipulated policy to enforce such partisan control of the bureaucracy, the top echelons of the public service might be differently politicised or occupied by skilled pro-ANC individuals though the use of affirmative action policy. But it is also possible that politicisation occurs partly because since the ANC took power it has embarked upon a particular project of transformation, which seems to be abolishing any sharp divide between party and state.

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