The role of senior public servants in South Africa : lessons for the future

Doctoral Thesis


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University of Cape Town

The researcher has attempted to analyse the impact of transformation on the role of the most senior public servant in South Africa, the Director General. This required an analysis of the Director General's administrative and policy roles within the political-administrative interface. The aims of the research were firstly to provide a description of the role of the Director General in the South African public service and thereby provide an insight into the office of the Director General. Secondly, the aim was to evaluate the South African public service transformation process as well as changes which have taken place at Director General level. A third aim was to provide a normative framework of the political and administrative interface in the South African context, and finally to contribute to the analysis of public service senior management. Thus, three research questions were posed: I. What role did the Director General play in the pre-and post-1994 South African public service? 2. What is the administrative and political interface in South Africa? 3. What ought to be the administrative and political interface in South Africa? In order to answer these questions, literature was reviewed and interviews were conducted with Directors General who served at a national level during the pre-and post-1994 eras. An open and closed questionnaire was developed by the researcher in order to gather data, and the research is therefore original work. The research incorporated scientific principles of social science and is a qualitative study. The research findings can be summarised as follows. Directors General, both pre-and post-1994, have two basic roles, one of which is an administrative role, the other, a policy role. The administrative role of the Director General has not fundamentally changed over the past fifteen years. Directors General continue to be responsible for human and financial resources within their administrative capacity. Problems and issues identified in Director Generals' administrative capacity persist and need to be addressed by improving management capacity. The Director General's policy role appears to be changing. A trend has been identified which indicates that Directors General are playing less of a policy role and more of an administrative role. It appears that the political leadership is usurping the Director General's policy role. Although a political-administrative dichotomy has never existed in South Africa, the role of the Director General is becoming more politicised with the introduction of presidential appointments. The research concludes with recommendations for improving management capacity, and developing a more sustainable political-administrative interface. It is hoped that this research will assist the South African government in its efforts to improve the management capacity in the public service in order for it to deliver quality services to all South Africans in an increasingly complex global environment.

Bibliography: leaves 293-303.