by Cathy Grosvenor


Jeff Radebe is as enduring as the expression ‘ubuntu’, which became a household word after Nelson Mandela’s iconic transition from prisoner to president


As the only member of Madiba’s historic 1994 cabinet who is still in office, Minister Radebe is the country’s longest-serving cabinet minister and the scope of his duties reflect the esteem in which he is held.

In 2014, President Jacob Zuma merged the portfolio tasked with implementing the National Development Plan (NDP)—the blueprint for altering the trajectory of our country by tackling poverty, unemployment and inequality—with the portfolio of performance monitoring and evaluation.

The newly-formed Department of Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation (DPME) was located within the presidency and Minister Radebe was appointed as its head.

His portfolio is incredibly complex and absolutely critical to the country’s success. Yet he is able to sum up his overarching mission in one simple sentence: “It is our future; make it work!”

Apart from taking responsibility for the critical National Planning Commission (NPC), of which Minister Radebe is chairman and which is the custodian of the all-important NDP, the DPME oversees the National Youth Development Agency and Statistics SA.

“The mission of the department is to facilitate, influence and support effective planning, monitoring and evaluation of government programmes aimed at improving service delivery, outcomes and the impact on society,” says Minister Radebe.

“Since the introduction of a government-wide Monitoring and Evaluation Framework, a number of monitoring and evaluation tools and programmes have been introduced to give impetus to the implementation of this framework,” he explains.

These include implementing government-wide planning systems; outcomes monitoring; evaluation of government priorities; capacity development, research and knowledge management; assessment of the quality of management practices in government departments; development indicators; frontline service delivery monitoring; the presidential hotline; institutional performance assessment tools for provincial and local government; citizen-based monitoring; socio-economic impact assessment system; and Operation Phakisa. With regard to the latter, the ocean economy has, since 2014, unlocked R7 billion in investments and created 6 903 jobs.

Minister Radebe says the DPME is a leader when it comes to maintaining exemplary standards and values that are primarily client-focused in supporting the work of the president, deputy president, government and the public at large.

“We have become good listeners who treat all clients with dignity, courtesy, responsiveness and respect. We pride ourselves on being a learning organisation that provides leadership in our area of expertise and is responsive to the changing needs of the public and government,” he says.

A global player

Earlier this year, Minister Radebe was appointed to the stewardship board of the World Economic Forum (WEF) System Initiative on the Future of Education, Gender and Work.

The board is made up of 40 global public and private sector leaders and seeks to cultivate collective leadership on public-private initiatives with the objective of ensuring that people worldwide can live up to their full potential.

Explaining why he accepted the appointment, he says that the issues close to the heart of the forum have the potential to positively impact on South Africa’s triple challenge of unemployment, poverty and equality.

“We are living in a time of extraordinary change. Education and the world of work need to be aligned with the Fourth Industrial Revolution, which is seeing people, business, industry and the government being impacted by technological breakthroughs.

“We need to rise to the challenge of the Fourth Industrial Revolution,” he says, adding that the forum’s gender mandate is equally relevant in South Africa, given our need to liberate women from oppression and give them the opportunity to be part of society.

Minister Radebe joined forces with another group of equally powerful people a month after his WEF appointment, when he was chosen as a South African ambassador for Global Citizen, a civil movement committed to tackling the world’s biggest challenges and ending extreme poverty. “The Global Citizen goals are in line with the NDP’s goals of ending poverty and reducing inequality,” he says.

Amongst the ambassadors of Global Citizen are the former Secretary-General of the UN, Ban Ki-moon, former First Lady of the United States, Michelle Obama and President of the World Bank, Dr Jim Yong Kim.

“These are people who are not prepared to wait for the government to single-handedly solve pressing challenges but who are prepared to put their shoulder to the wheel to help effect change. This is what we want to see in South Africa and why the NDP talks about active citizenry,” Minister Radebe says.


The NDP is an economic policy framework that aims to eliminate poverty and reduce inequality by 2030. It was adopted amid much fanfare in 2012. Today, five years later, Minister Radebe is proud to share that the implementation of the NDP has seen major improvements in education, health and safety.

“South Africa realised that the absence of long-term strategic planning limited the government’s ability to provide coherent and consistent policy responses to societal needs; capacity to mobilise society in pursuit of development objectives and the efforts to drive implementation and prioritise resources,” says Minister Radebe of the environment that necessitated the NDP.

“While government departments, state-owned entities, public agencies and social partners all had some form of planning in place, there was a realisation that the plans were disparate and the results fragmented. In order to realise the ideals enshrined in the Constitution and the country’s developmental agenda, the state recognised the need to work with all sectors of society to improve the quality of life,” he says.

The Green Paper on National Strategic Planning was developed and set out the argument for a well-articulated national vision and long-term strategic planning. It recognised the need for “a long-term perspective, focus and determination to realise our vision. Growth and development, strengthening institutions, nation-building and the making of a developmental state are long-term projects. They do not happen overnight. A single term of government is too short a time to complete our project of building a prosperous, non-racial, non-sexist and democratic South Africa, where all citizens can share in the fruits of opportunity”. (The Presidency, 2009: 1)

The Green Paper was later revised and laid the foundation for the formation of the NPC, which was tasked with answering a number of questions to determine where South Africa wants to be as a society in 2030. “The paper further highlighted that South Africa needed well-researched, evidence-based input into the policy process on broad cross-cutting issues that have long term-implications for the country’s development in an array of different areas,” explains the Minister.

“The establishment of the NPC in 2010 marked a milestone in planning and defining a development path that is aimed at transforming South Africa into a truly democratic and equitable society,” he adds.

The NDP has 13 different chapters that address the most pressing challenges facing South Africa and provide solutions to the challenges in the form of proposals and actions, with sector-specific goals outlined.

“To this end, we reaffirm that the NDP constitutes the programme through which we will advance radical socio-economic transformation. At its core is the creation of decent work, accelerating shared and inclusive economic growth, transforming the structure of production and ownership and enabling the talents and productive potential of our people to flourish,” Minister Radebe explains.

A national vision

Minister Radebe stresses that the NDP cannot be implemented by the government alone and requires determined and measurable actions from all social actors and partners across all sectors of society.

South Africa’s goals of eliminating poverty and reducing inequality can only be achieved by “drawing on the energies of its people, growing an inclusive economy, building capabilities, enhancing the capacity of the state and promoting leadership and partnerships throughout society”.

During the development of the NDP, Minister Radebe says the government embarked on an extensive consultation process with an array of different stakeholders from business, civil society, non-governmental organisations, academic institutions, trade unions, churches and many more.

“Therefore, the NDP is not a product of the government but a culmination of societal effort from hundreds of interactions with South Africans, inputs from tens of thousands of people and the use of extensive research and robust debate throughout the country.

“Our approach in the implementation of the plan remains the same and revolves around active citizenry. It is a plan for South Africa that requires action, change and sacrifice from all sectors of society and not only the government,” he stresses.

Business and industry must get involved

“I cannot over-emphasise the pivotal role of the private sector in delivering on Vision 2030. A capable and developmental state requires a vibrant and thriving private sector to support investment and create jobs for all South Africans. The private sector employs about three-quarters of South Africa’s workers and accounts for over two-thirds of investment,” says Minister Radebe.

He says that the government continues to build partnerships with business in delivering on the NDP. “For instance, the Presidential Business Working Group has been established to develop very practical partnerships in addressing constraints to inclusive growth, investment and employment. In addition, we continue to develop collaborative efforts to strengthen short-term confidence measures and reinforce long-term growth that includes boosting investment and unblocking obstacles to faster employment growth in key sectors,” he says.

In supporting a partnership approach, the Presidential CEO Initiative led by the Minister of Finance and the Chairman of Telkom continues to focus on the implementation of the NDP.

“These initiatives are imperative towards promoting investment and growth and achieving Vision 2030,” he says.

Minister Radebe says the country needs to sharpen its innovative edge and continue contributing to the global scientific and technological advancement. In order to realise this objective, greater investment in research and development (R&D), better use of existing resources and nimbler institutions that facilitate innovation and enhanced cooperation between public science and technology institutions and the private sector is key, he adds.

“There is a need for the government to partner with the private sector in order to raise the level of R&D, with resources targeted towards building the research infrastructure required by a modern economy.

“Income, through employment or social security, is critical to defining living standards, but human beings need more than income. They need adequate nutrition, they need transport to get to work and they desire safe communities and clean neighbourhoods. These elements require action either from individuals, the government, communities or the private sector.

“Both the public and private sector can play important roles in building the needed infrastructure,” he says. “These interventions and partnerships are critical if we wish to reduce the trust deficit between the government and business and achieve the objectives of the NDP.”

NDP implementation

“Substantial progress has been made in establishing South Africa’s planning system,” he says, citing the appointment of the NPC and the establishment of the function of planning, monitoring and evaluation at the centre of the government, both of which provide a comprehensive institutional framework to achieve the goals of the NDP.

“We have made strides in the consolidation of the planning function with performance monitoring and evaluation. This has laid a solid basis for coordinated planning, execution of policies and performance enforcement across the government.

“As the government, we have cascaded the NDP into a workable set of actions to be implemented through the Medium Term Strategic Framework (MTSF). The MTSF is the first five-year implementation plan for the NDP. We have also developed other initiatives to support its implementation.

“While the MTSF is useful for monitoring and tracking the government’s implementation of the NDP, there is very little in the way of tracking the NDP’s implementation commitment by the private sector and other sectors of society,” he says.

In the quest to accelerate delivery on the national priorities espoused in the NDP, Operation Phakisa has been created and is being implemented in key areas to deal with delivery blockages.

This is an innovative and pioneering approach that brings stakeholders together to collaboratively translate solutions into detailed implementation plans, during delivery labs, followed by intensive monitoring and problem-solving.

In his 2015 State of the Nation Address, President Zuma unveiled a Nine-Point Plan to ignite economic growth and create jobs.

The Nine-Point Plan identifies interventions to:

  • Support the revitalisation of agriculture and the agro-processing value chain;
  • Advance beneficiation or adding value to our mineral wealth;
  • More effectively implement a higher impact Industrial Policy Action Plan;
  • Work with the private sector to encourage increased private sector investment;
  • Moderate workplace conflict;
  • Resolve the energy challenge;
  • Unlock the potential of SMMEs, cooperatives and township and rural enterprises;
  • Harness infrastructure levers to support overall economic growth. This is focused on ICT, the utilisation of our scarce water resources, transport and research, development and innovation; and
  • Grow the ocean economy and other sectors through Operation Phakisa: Oceans Economy.

“The government is also implementing a number of confidence-boosting measures to re-ignite investment in our economy. This was recently announced by the Minister of Finance,” adds Minister Radebe.

Over and above these important interventions, the current NPC, appointed by President Zuma in September 2015 for five years, has been mandated to promote and advance the implementation of the NDP across different sectors of society by:

Undertaking detailed planning in a selected number of sectors to be determined from time to time;

Conducting regular engagements with various sectors of society on all matters pertaining to the long-term development of the country;

Facilitating stakeholder engagements aimed at forging a social compact towards more effective implementation of the NDP;

Taking a cross-cutting view, undertaking research into long-term trends, analysing implementation of short- to medium-term plans with a view to recommending improvements to the government as well as producing reports to inform policy and planning; and

Contributing to the development of international partnerships and networks on national planning.

“This sweeping set of interventions supports the implementation of the NDP,” he says.

Current challenges

“While we have made important strides since 1994, key challenges persist in turning around our economy.

“Overall growth performance as envisaged in the NDP has not been achieved. Our growth rate continues to lag behind the 5% annual NDP growth target,” says Minister Radebe, explaining that economic growth has generally been slow since the 2008/9 global financial crisis.

“We have not fully recovered. In addition, our economic outlook continues to deteriorate and we remain trapped in a low growth path. We have also not sufficiently diversified our economy and as a result, the productive sectors of our economy are underperforming and declining in terms of their contribution to GDP, growth and job creation,” he emphasises.

In addition, he says we have not made significant progress in reducing unemployment. According to Stats SA, South Africa’s unemployment in the first quarter of 2017 increased by 1.2 of a percentage point to 27.7%—the highest figure since September 2003.

“Poverty levels remain high and inequality continues to widen,” says Minister Radebe.

He acknowledges that the vast majority of South Africans have expressed dissatisfaction at the lack of transformation in the economy. The poor, working and deep rural communities, women and young people have not enjoyed the economic benefits of freedom and democracy.

“A lack of inclusive growth has increased inequality and maintained the economic exclusion and marginalisation of many black people in productive activity.

“Moreover, there is a need to do more work to galvanise society around the NDP. We are working towards improving the role of the DPME in coordinating and monitoring the implementation of the NDP and to strengthen alignment between what is expected by the government and the rest of society, in particular, the business sector,” he says.

Implementation successes

The MTSF, which is the government’s comprehensive plan for implementing the NDP, serves as the principal guide to the planning and the allocation of resources across all spheres of the government.

The latest MTSF report evidences a number of successes that directly impact the quality of life of South Africa’s people. Most notable are the improvements in the delivery of basic services. Since 2014, 628 061 additional households (HHs) have been connected to the electricity grid, 40 569 additional HHs are connected to the non-grid, 401 794 additional HHs have access to refuse removal, 283 200 additional HHs have received access to water and 425 000 additional HHs have been given access to sanitation.

“We have one of the most extensive and successful social protection systems in the world with more 16.8-million beneficiaries having access to social grants, which is 91% of eligible beneficiaries. More than 10 million of these beneficiaries are children,” the Minister enthuses.

Healthcare has also been given a shot in the arm. Total life expectancy at birth has increased from 61.2 years in 2012 to 63.3 years in 2015. Child health has improved, with mortality in children under the age of five decreasing from 41 deaths per 1 000 live-births in 2012 to 37 deaths per 1 000 live-births in 2015. The maternal mortality ratio has also improved, from 200 deaths per 100 000 live-births in 2011 to 119 deaths in 2015 per 100 000 live births.

There have also been positive improvements in both education and housing outcomes.

South Africa now has almost universal access to basic education; 98.8% of seven to 15-year-olds are attending educational institutions. Mathematics in the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study scores have improved from 285 in 2003 to 372 in 2015. The international midpoint is 400. In addition, the Southern and Eastern Africa Consortium for Monitoring Educational Quality scores have improved from 494.8 in 2010 to 587.2 in 2015.

To date, 3 455 schools have connected to the Internet and received devices through Operation Phakisa ICT. The matric pass rate improved to 72.5% in 2016, up from 70.7% in 2015. Bachelor passes increased to 162 374 in 2016 from 150 752 in 2014.

In higher education, the number of qualifying technical and vocational education and training students obtaining financial assistance annually has increased from 188 182 in 2012 to 235 988 in 2015. The number of students enrolled in public higher education studies at universities has increased from 950 000 in 2012 to 985 212 in 2015.

With regard to housing, the following improvements were made between 2014 and 2016: Housing delivered by the state increased by 273 000 additional units; 200 000 HH in informal settlements have been upgraded; 163 000 title deeds have been transferred to homeowners, thereby reducing the previous backlog of 820 000; and 217 000 loans have been issued into the gap market by development financial institutions and banks (40% of target at a 4:1 ratio).

“The employment numbers, which we only started measuring in 1996, reflected the number employed as 9.1-million. In 2017, the number is 16.5-million.

“Admittedly, these are broad strokes as the Quarterly Labour Force Survey only commenced in 2008,” he says.

He stresses that the economy needs to be looked at in context. At constant 2005 prices, GDP was R1.7-trillion, which has risen to R3.1-trillion in 2016 constant prices. In nominal prices, it was R467 billion in 1994 and now in 2016, it is R4.6-trillion.

Other achievements

Minister Radebe says a number of milestones have been reached by the government, including:

  • The establishment of the Office of the Chief Procurement Officer in the National Treasury;
  • The Employment Tax Incentive Act aimed at helping young people enter the labour market was passed by Parliament in 2013 and implementation began this year.
  • The percentage of women in legislative bodies has improved from 38.4% in 2011 to 41.2% in 2015. The Gender Inequality Index reflects gender-based inequalities in three dimensions improved from 0.462 to 0.394, representing a 14.7% progress.
  • The number of people convicted for corruption has more than doubled between 2013/14 and 2016/17, from 52 to 110.

“South Africa is improving its ranking on the Corruption Perceptions Index,” adds Minister Radebe.

Going forward

“Given its comprehensive nature, the NDP is uneven in providing detailed actions in each sector. It was always understood that to facilitate implementation, detailed and refined planning would need to be undertaken in various sectors and this is the task facing the second Commission.

“While some of the detailed planning has been done by the government in its MTSF, more work is required, especially in areas not covered in the MTSF,” Minister Radebe says.

At the end of the first Commission’s term of office, a handover report was compiled, detailing its work and areas that needed urgent attention. This report highlighted the need to attend to issues of economic growth and transformation; state capacity, in particular, matters relating to improving governance; and mobilising key sectors to agree on a social compact, which addresses measures necessary to accelerate implementation of the NDP.

To support this, the NPC has identified three priority areas: It proposes that measures aimed at enhancing the quality of life of South Africans are strengthened and new ones introduced. Proposals must be put forward to ensure the country has an expanded, inclusive, efficient and fairer economy.

Lastly, research must be undertaken and institutions responsible for developing the capability and capacity of the state must be engaged to enhance leadership and encourage citizens to actively participate in the implementation of the NDP.

As a key priority, unlocking faster and inclusive economic growth is pivotal for the Commission, says Minister Radebe. “This requires addressing a range of constraints to growth, including but not limited to energy, water, transport infrastructure, increasing economic diversification and lack of skills.

“These constraints have been identified before and the focus of the NPC is on understanding the reasons for the slow progress and to propose measures to accelerate growth. This will also be supported by finding ways of supporting and invigorating township and rural economies to improve economic participation and outcomes,” he says.

Our children, our future

The DPME is also responsible for youth development. “Youth issues are pertinent to South Africa and close to my heart. For Vision 2030 to be realised, we need to skill the youth today to prepare them for the world of work and to be job creators themselves. That is why the Black Industrialist Programme largely targets entrepreneurs and why the government is pumping billions into education,” he explains.

The man behind the politician

Responsible and responsive are the characteristics of a good leader, says Minister Radebe. “One has to be responsible to the people and responsive to the needs of our people because we are there not to be served but to serve. Politics is not a profession but a commitment and a dedication to creating a better life for all,” he explains.

The ANC’s Head of Policy, Minister Radebe says that while some people say the results of the 2016 local government elections were a ‘wake-up call’, he says they were a ‘clarion call’.

“We need to redouble our efforts to serve the people better, to listen to what they say and to do more to improve the quality of their lives,” he says.

Apart from the obvious answers of Nelson Mandela and Oliver Tambo, Minister Radebe says a leader who inspired him is Fidel Castro.

“When I was a young man, I would read his 1953 defence speech ‘History Will Absolve Me’. He could have had the best things in life as a lawyer but instead, dedicated his years to the struggle to benefit the Cuban people,” he says.

Minister Radebe says with regard to Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom: “He never told us how many kilometres we would walk; that is why we keep on walking until a better life for our people is attained.”

A lawyer himself, Minister Radebe did his articles with Phyllis Naidoo who defended many political activists.

He underwent military training with Umkhonto we Sizwe and was arrested in Johannesburg and charged and convicted under the Terrorism Act.

While at school, he wanted to be a doctor and naturally wanted to excel in science and maths. University students would come and give extra lessons to the learners on Saturday. Among the teenager’s tutors were none other than Steve Biko and Keith Mokoape.

“They inspired me and introduced me to politics, especially the black consciousness movement. Because of them, I changed to law and dedicated myself to the struggle,” he concludes.

And the rest, as they say, is history! 

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