Political staff, here’s what to do
By end of this week, President Cyril Ramaphosa will have announced his new cabinet ministers and deputy ministers.
Premiers and members of the executive councils will also have been confirmed.
These political principals will appoint core staff in their private officers based on the prescripts of the Ministerial Handbook.
Many young people will have an opportunity to serve at the pleasure of these principals – a great opportunity for anyone committed to public service.
But before champagne bottles are popped, I want to say a few things.
I am no expert on political appointments.
I have only been a government employee for about two years, having started immediately after graduating with my honours degree in 2017.
I worked in the office of a minister for a year before resigning and currently work in the office of a mayor in one of the metros.
It is on this basis that I believe myself positioned to give this advice to young people who will be employed in political office.
As a starting point, I want to indicate that I don’t believe that sending young people to parliament and legislatures on its own is progressive.
While it is symbolic at the level of representation, I believe that true commitment to youth development is demonstrated in the construction of a long-term plan for these young parliamentarians.
In an article published in The Star newspaper on Thursday, Tshwane University of Technology PhD candidate and associate researcher Kgabo Morifi posed an argument that meaningful youth development was about ensuring that the youth sent to parliament and legislatures came out in the next five years capacitated to contribute to other sectors of the economy.
He argued that merely sending them to parliament and legislatures without a coherent and sustainable plan for their development was nothing more than political expediency.
I agree fully.
Moving from that, I want to caution young people against treating political office as a theatre of accumulation.
The young people who will be appointed in the offices of political principals must be cognisant of the fact that they serve at the pleasure of these politicians and that those politicians themselves serve at the pleasure of the president or the premier.
As such, circumstances can change radically.
They have an obligation to be prepared for any eventuality.
Young political appointees must not change their standard of living radically.
They should never go out and buy cars with ridiculous instalment costs or rent in neighbourhoods where the costs are exorbitant.
They should never live a life of conspicuous consumption.
When working in a political office, it is imperative to save as much as possible.
Our term of office is tied to our political principals.
A minister can be recalled at any time.
They could be reshuffled and not take some of their staff to their next department.
Although I was fortunate that when my former boss was reshuffled by former president Jacob Zuma she took all of us with her, it could have been different.
I have seen people left behind, stuck in limbo as new ministers come in with their own staff.
It is a savage experience to which no-one must be condemned.
Young people must save so that should anything happen, they at least have resources to survive.
Second, young people must utilise the existing opportunities in government to further their studies. Education is fundamental. While political office is demanding and extremely busy, time must be dedicated to academic work.
It is always wise to continuously develop oneself.
An evolving post-productivist economy like ours demands dynamic skills and qualifications.
Many careers are being rendered obsolete by advances in technology, so it is imperative that young people are in a constant state of growth and development so that they are employable beyond political appointments.
Last and perhaps most importantly, experience has taught me that being employed in political office attracts all kinds of people towards you.
Because of our proximity to powerful politicians, many people want a piece of us so that we connect them with our principals.
Some people are legitimate, but some want these connections for nefarious reasons that are often unethical and even downright illegal.
Young people must refuse to be compromised like this.
And they must especially refuse when it is the political principals themselves who want to compromise them.
We must have the courage to refuse to be compromised by politicians.
We are still young, our journey is still very long.
We should never sacrifice our morals and ethics at the altar of political expediency, nor agree to be compromised to curry favour with our bosses.
They are our principals, but they are not our moral compasses.
Our conscience must guide us though the heavens may fall.
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