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Academia can influence policy in South Africa, says SPL lecturer
Author: Daniel Bugan
Published: 17/11/2021

A PhD developed by Stellenbosch University's Dr Harlan Cloete has proved to be influential in the development of the new Municipal Staff Regulations published by Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma recently.

The regulations, which focus on how municipalities should recruit, maintain and develop their staff, will come into effect on 1 July 2022. 

​Cloete, an extraordinary lecturer at SU's School of Public Leadership (SPL), completed his PhD entitled, “Human Resource Development in Local Government – a management perspective" in 2016 under the supervision of Prof Frederick Uys. He then led a research team to investigate the challenges facing skills development facilitators (SDFs) in the implementation of skills development interventions in South African municipalities. As a result, he developed  the HRD for good municipal governance course (2017) and wrote an accompanying textbook, Guide to effectively manage Human Resource Development in South African Local Government (2019). 

The HRD course, recognised for its innovative approach at the Achiever Awards of the National Skills Development Summit in 2019, was successfully implemented in municipalities in all nine provinces through the municipal capacity building programme of the Local Government SETA. To date more than 1 100 municipal officials have been trained including SDFs, HR officials, trade union members, training committee members and councillors. Cloete also developed a number of infographics as well as a cloud-based system to manage and measure HRD implementation in municipalities in 2021.

Cloete says most of the new Municipal Staff Regulations are based on the Integrated Management Framework for Human Resource Development model that he proposed in his thesis (chapter 7) and his book (chapter 4, page 102- 136) and, as such, serves as a clear illustration of how academia can influence policy in South Africa.

“My work recognises that officials in municipalities are public servants with a collective sense of responsibility. I also expand on ethical values in my thesis and my book, and advocate that policies should be geared to achievement of an overall HR Plan. This is now in the new regulations.

“Where currently  human resource development is  centralised, I proposed that if you really want to measure HRD you need to make sure that this is organised in a decentralised way. The regulations  recognise this in that we now speak of departmental and individual needs analysis and development. It offers a more evidenced-based approach. I recommended in my thesis that managers cannot abdicate their responsibility and that HR merely supports them. This I refer to as the triad approach.  The regulations now propose that skills development is a key performance area (KPA) of senior management and that management should submit monthly reports and annual skills reports. I further proposed that the manager must have performance conversations with the staff. This is stated in the regulations.

“Although training is the most popular option for development,  I argue in my thesis that workplace learning such as on-the-job learning, job rotation, coaching and mentorships are now also recognised as platforms through which people can develop. This is now included in the regulations.

“I proposed that individuals need to take responsibility for their own development through the personal development plan. They need to have a say. The regulations now state that individuals must take responsibility for their own development and career growth.

“I proposed that internal and external stakeholders must be identified and their roles clarified. The regulations now make the roles and responsibilities of these stakeholders clear."

Jasper van der Westhuizen, senior advisor at the South African Local Government Association (SALGA) in the Western Cape, said of Cloete and his role in the formulation of the new Municipal Staff Regulations, “SALGA recognises and applauds the work of Dr Cloete in the area of HRD. His thesis and his seminal book introduced the Integrated Management Framework for HRD as an approach to manage and measure HRD in municipalities. We are delighted that much of what Dr Cloete has been advocating for the last five years through his course is now captured in the Municipal Staff Regulations that come into being in July 2022. We are looking forward to working with him as we endeavour to introduce a new HR governance framework for municipalities."

Acting Newcastle Municipal Manager Vish Govender spoke glowingly of the HRD for Good Municipal  Governance course introduced by Cloete.

“The sessions that Dr Cloete had with our senior and line managers have cultivated interest in HRD programmes and also secured buy-in for the HRD and its day-to-day initiatives. This alone will revolutionise skills development in the Newcastle Municipality and ensure that HRD is supported with financial resources, facilities and necessary human capital."

Cloete, who has presented various papers at national and international conferences, is a regular on national radio and television and is also a columnist on issues of local governance. He is busy with his third book, Guide to effectively implement human resource development in South African local government – the eight non-negotiables.

“I am inspired and motivated by the late Professor Bongani Mayosi, who stated, there is no point in publishing papers, if they cannot be translated into better treatments, better survival, better quality of life and longer life for the people of South Africa. I want my work to make a difference and my research to be relevant to address real societal problems. I want to continue to explore evidence-based HRD governance systems in local government that improve efficiency of processes and effectiveness of results, i.e.  outputs, outcome, impacts."

Cloete recently founded the weekly Great Governance ZA podcast to find and voice the hidden stories of excellence in local government to motivate others to ethically lead and transform communities in South Africa. 

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