Last weekend, the Sunday Times ran a front-page exposé by Erika Gibson on the saga of high-flying Cyril Ramaphosa. His office splurged R2.6m to hire a 320-passenger SAA Airbus A340 to transport 12 people, including the president, to a single meeting in Kinshasa, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the report said.

A day late and many dollars short, the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) “corrected” the story by saying the cost to the taxpayer was R1.6m, not the R2.6m cited in the article.

Significantly, what the SANDF did not do was offer any excuse for its negligence, which was the nub of the article and the cause of the extra cost for the stretched fiscus and overburdened taxpayer.

The South African Air Force (SAAF) neglected to maintain annual payments of R300,000 to an aviation database, with the result that the presidential jet was grounded.  Using this jet for the Kinsasha trip would cost half the price of the SAA charter, according to the SANDF’s figures. A small sum with much larger meaning. Across the entirety of the state that Ramaphosa governs, this shrug of indifference, the absence of consequences for malperformance and the perverse incentives for privileging party loyalty (which is good for the comrades) over functional competence (which is necessary for governance)  run rampant.

Regarding perverse incentives and the destination of Ramaphosa’s jet ride, there is a fascinating article in the journal Foreign Affairs, by professor Jason Stearns, entitled Rebels without a Cause — the New Face of African Warfare.

The article opens with the 10th outbreak of ebola in the DRC in 2018. This was the first occurrence of this haemorrhagic fever in an active conflict zone, in the DRC’s northeast.

Donors, led by the World Health Organisation, splurged heavily to contain the outbreak,  putting both Congolese security forces and armed militias on donor payrolls.

Stearns writes: “This created perverse incentives: though the combatants had reason to refrain from attacking aid workers, they also had an interest in prolonging the epidemic so they could keep profiting from it. Between August 2018 and June 2020, when the ebola epidemic was finally declared over, some militiamen and members of the government security forces stoked violence and instability so that the disease would continue to spread, and the international aid agencies would continue to pay them.”

The author’s withering conclusion is that “a well-meaning effort to contain the disease ended up doing the exact opposite”.

Ramaphosa and some of the more sensible people in the government might have cringed with embarrassment on reading the exposé of the rank negligence embedded in the SAAF failure to pay its annual dues.  Or else they have become so inured to failure that they shrugged it off.

But in the same week as this metaphor of state dysfunction went airborne, Ramaphosa under oath provided an insight into his own view of perverse incentives and their baleful outcomes.

In response to  the DA court application to declare cadre deployment illegal and unconstitutional, the president  said in an affidavit that overall, this policy — which has wrecked the state at all levels — was benign and positive in motivation. It might have opened the sluice gates to state capture and grand larceny but cadre deployment is driven by “an ethic of work and selflessness… responsiveness to the needs of the people… true to our tradition of putting the interests of our people and our country first”.

You might die laughing at this assertion, given this week’s revelation that the Thembisa hospital CEO, deployed cadre Ashley Mthunzi, splurged R498,000 on 200 pairs of skinny jeans for girls.  It’s a useful amount since, as MPL Jack Bloom notes, amounts under R500,000 don’t go out to tender. The CEO can (and in this case did) sign them off. He remains in his post. Another comrade, ANC Ekurhuleni treasurer Sello Sekhokho, scored R2.3m for overpriced goods bought by the hospital from three of his companies, according to Bloom.

This week was also the first anniversary of the murder of Gauteng health official Babita Deokaran who was assassinated after blowing the whistle on R850m of possibly fraudulent payments made by the same hospital.

Ramaphosa provides a lame answer to all this. He avers: “The weaknesses lie in the abuse of the [cadre deployment] policy where the [cade deployment] committee is captured.”

And for this assertion he relies on evidence given to the state capture commission by impeccable struggle stalwart Barbara Hogan.

Recently, at another forum, Hogan was in full and contrary voice on another key pillar of ANC policy, BEE. Along with cadre deployment, BEE made the ANC’s hegemony of society complete.

Hogan, contrary to Ramaphosa’s doubling down on failed policy, said: “We created BEE and it became a monster. A vehicle of entitlement, and it stalks our society in every single way and that is the corrosive value that hides a good cause.”

In terms of the ANC church Hogan is an apostate, but at least she acknowledges the sin and her complicity. Ramaphosa remains a true believer. Or so he avers. But in the deep of night when he looks at a god in ruins, he surely knows that policies proclaimed for the good of “transformation” have rendered the society on which they were imposed unhappy, ungoverned and unserved. That’s truly the most perverse outcome of all.

Tony Leon, a former leader of the opposition, now chairs Resolve Communications. @TonyLeonSA