Last week we reported how left-wing elements in the ANC-led alliance and in the Cabinet were attacking the National Development Plan (NDP) and undermining the implementation thereof. This week, however, we analyse the substantial support that exists for South Africa’s long-term plan, which must guide its future development with the key focus on growth, jobs and elimination of poverty and inequality.
Since last week, more controversy has threatened to undermine the NDP. It was reported that chapter seven of the NDP, dealing with South Africa’s foreign policy, had been rejected and replaced either partially or completely with a new one by the Department of International Relations and Co-operation (DIRCO). This came after the ANC and Cabinet had adopted the NDP with the relevant chapter having been written by an outside consultant while the original chapter offered by DIRCO had been ignored.
Lindiwe Zulu, President Jacob Zuma’s international relations adviser, reportedly said departments that have to implement the NDP have a right to question or change problematic parts and that an 'addendum' now submitted to Cabinet by DIRCO does not create any contradiction with the NDP as adopted by the ANC and Cabinet.
Previously, as we pointed out last week, the ANC’s left-wing allies – the South African Communist Party (SACP) and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) – had largely rejected the NDP in its current form.
And one of Cosatu’s biggest affiliates, the ultra-left National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) has rejected the NDP altogether.
Several other left-wing Cabinet members have either adopted contradictory plans or policies, or have spoken out against the NDP. These ideological and factional divisions could make implementation of the NDP almost impossible.
But there is also substantial support for the plan. As President Zuma has pointed out in defence of the plan, it is a fact that it was adopted by the ANC at its Mangaung national conference in December after a lengthy and very wide consultation process that secured widespread support for the NDP.
In fact, the left-wing entities now opposing the NDP are Johnnies-come-lately and are a minority compared to those that have embraced it. But they are in a powerful position right now to extract concessions from the government as the ANC, under much public pressure across a wide front, needs their unqualified support for next year’s general election.
The consultation process followed on the appointment of the National Planning Commission (NPC) in 2010, under the chairmanship of Minister in the Presidency for National Planning, Trevor Manuel. In 2011 the NPC produced part of the vision statement and a diagnostic overview, which set out the key challenges in fighting poverty and inequality, among others.
Then followed an intensive countrywide consultation process, which included an online discussion with more than 10 000 participants and visits to all nine provinces by the commission for numerous public forums. Broad agreement was secured on the contents, resulting in a draft plan presented to President Zuma in November 2011.
Zuma requested a further national dialogue, after which extensive consultations took place with different sectors in society, leaders of all political parties in Parliament, members of provincial executive committees in all provinces, senior government officials, mayors and municipal managers, labour organisations, business organisations, civil society entities, youth formations, traditional leaders and religious formations.
In August 2012, all political parties represented in Parliament expressed support for the revised NDP.
In September a Cabinet Lekgotla welcomed the NDP as “the strategic framework to form the basis of future government planning”.
And, in December the ANC’s national conference adopted the NDP as the blueprint to guide and align all departmental and other plans and policies.
In February 2013, Zuma said the NDP was a crucial policy-making tool that would help South Africa develop and determine the direction the country takes – a position he has since repeatedly maintained.
Concerned by the attacks on the NDP, some of them personal, Manuel recently said: "There are those who urge our people to reject the NDP. ... all political parties accepted the plan. It's not for the government, but the people.”
South African Reserve Bank governor Gill Marcus recently uncharacteristically weighed in on the public debate around the NDP. In a bold and impassioned plea, she said the fact that the NDP was the only document other than the Constitution which has been adopted by Parliament, "gives it a lot of standing".
And, following the increase in objections to the plan from the SACP and Cosatu, the Minister in the Presidency responsible for Performance Monitoring and Evaluation, Collins Chabane, recently promised that the NDP would provide the basis for the government’s strategic framework for the five years following next year’s general election.
That, in effect, was telling the SACP and Cosatu that the government intends forging ahead with the NDP regardless of their objections and Numsa’s warning that it would reject the ANC’s election manifesto if it were based on the NDP.
ANC treasurer-general Zwelini Mkhize, whose influence in the party is rapidly growing, recently told the central executive committee of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) that while “there may be issues for continuous debate and engagement, the ANC urges all South Africans to unite behind the plan”.
Delivering the Presidency Budget Vote speech in the National Assembly last Wednesday, President Zuma said: “The plan has been one of the foremost achievements of the country since 1994, and it has been adopted by both Cabinet and Parliament and many sectors of civil society.
“While there may be differences of opinion on specific details, there is general acceptance of the broad thrust of the National Development Plan.
It is normal to have differences of opinion in a democratic society and it cannot be seen to constitute a crisis,” he said.
He added, however: “What we are suggesting, though, is that people must offer constructive inputs on the plan and not just debate for the sake of it. We have moved to the implementation phase of the plan, incorporating the economic strategies, the New Growth Path, the Industrial Policy Action Plan and the infrastructure development plan, which now fall under the NDP umbrella.”
Manuel, his fellow commissioners and some Cabinet ministers have recently acknowledged that the NDP is not cast in stone, that it provides a guiding framework only, and that it is a living document that may be subject to change.
However, it would have to provide some firm, non-negotiable direction for other sub-plans to be developed and aligned with it. It cannot be allowed that sections of it may be changed ad hoc and willy-nilly by groups, organisations, individuals or departments with different agendas.
It would be a pity if the government were to forsake the broad consultative process and support which underpinned the NDP, and succumbed to minority left-wing demands for the sake of short-term election gains.
To prevent that, Zuma would have to cock a snook at the ANC’s left-wing allies while reining in his recalcitrant left-wing ministers and deputy ministers. The question is: will the chance of losing vital alliance support in the general election make this too risky for him?