The National Development Plan (NDP) is under attack from the left wing of the African National Congress governing alliance. The attacks are also exposing serious ideological cracks within President Jacob Zuma’s cabinet and the 'broad church' alliance. It effectively turns government into a lame duck, preventing implementation of the NDP and other key government policies.
Our analysis, last week, pointed out how this situation is exacerbated by government’s inability to deal with South Africa’s current labour market crisis because of the 'political marriage' between the ANC and the Congress of SA Trade Unions (Cosatu), and the alliance with the South African Communist Party (SACP).
The same is happening in the implementation of the NDP, now stuck in an ideological cleft within the ANC.
Drawn up by the National Planning Commission (NPC) consisting of non-government experts under the chairmanship of National Planning Minister, Trevor Manuel, the widely acclaimed NDP was unveiled last year.
It presented a guiding vision for growth, 11 million new jobs, eradicating poverty and reducing inequality within the next 17 years. It is not a cast-in-stone, stand-alone policy document but provides direction, identifies blockages, and proposes targets and timelines. But success will ultimately depend on implementation of individual policy initiatives, programmes and departmental action plans, some of which have already been produced.
The ANC adopted the NDP in December, at its national conference, with no objections from the left at the time. The conference also adopted the 'second phase transition' doctrine championed by Zuma, initially as the 'economic second transition'.
The cabinet and the ANC’s national executive committee – both of which include SACP and Cosatu members - enthusiastically endorsed the NDP. Re-elected Zuma seemed to be at the pinnacle of his power.
The picture started changing dramatically shortly after Manuel announced a framework for the implementation of the NDP in February. The hitherto hidden cracks started opening up and the NDP became the battleground for the ongoing factional battles within the alliance, as we reported.
In March, Cosatu questioned many aspects of the NDP without rejecting it altogether. It promised an official position on the NDP by May. Last week Thursday the political commission of Cosatu’s central executive committee met to formulate this position to be taken to a forthcoming alliance economic summit early next month. Its official position now is that the NDP does not make a radical enough economic policy shift and that Cosatu rejects aspects of it. Cosatu will also discuss its objections with government. Cosatu acknowledges the need for a plan, but will not support the NDP in its entirety in its current form.
leaders of Cosatu and its affiliated unions – mostly viewed as being in the pro-Zuma camp – remained silent.
But these developments explained why government’s progress towards putting the plan into practice has been so painfully slow, or non-existent. The ideological divisions over the NDP, as somewhat distinct from the factional power struggles, soon became more apparent.
Government left-wingers, critical of the NDP and who favour a more statist or interventionist approach, include Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies, Economic Development Minister Ebrahim Patel, Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande and Public Works Deputy Minister Jeremy Cronin. All are members of the SACP, while Patel has a Cosatu background.
In the other corner are the economic liberals and centre pragmatists promoting the NDP, including Zuma, Manuel, NPC deputy chairman and deputy president, Cyril Ramaphosa, Finance Minister, Pravin Gordhan, Minister in the Presidency, Collins Chabane, Public Works Minister, Thulasi Nxesi, Justice Minister, Jeff Radebe, among others.
After Manuel first unveiled aspects of the NDP, then still in the making, Patel, in 2010, released his New Growth Path (NGP) seeking improved growth and five million new jobs over the next 10 years. Davies followed with the release in April of a revised Industrial Policy Action Plan (IPAP), an action plan seeking to build South Africa’s industrial base in critical sectors and reduce unemployment.
Both plans were enthusiastically endorsed by the left. In some quarters the plans are viewed as competing with the NDP but, in essence, they are action plans that together with other plans and programmes, should complement the overall NDP framework.
Things became obscure as the NDP morphed from being a battleground for factional power struggles to one of ideological differences. At the same time Zuma, his government and the ANC failed to properly manage the NDP and enforce adherence to it by all members of the government.
According to a report, last month, in a public debate with NPC commissioner Bobby Godsell, deputy minister, Jeremy Cronin, dismissed the NDP as being fatally flawed, impossible to implement, its inequality reduction target as being “pathetic”, and it being weak on re-industrialisation, infrastructure provision and skills development.
Cronin is, however, ignoring the fact that for the latter three aspects there are already separate action plans in place, which should be viewed as extensions of the NDP. His own department, Public Works, is supposed to play a huge role in the implementation of the infrastructure programme.
The SACP’s recently released critique of the NDP rejects attempts to rally the alliance around the NDP and calls for a more radical social and economic restructuring, guided by a new "strategic platform" that would drive state policy.
Calling the NDP an “uneven document” the SACP’s Nzimande said the party rejects it as a "fit-for-implementation, off-the-shelf plan of action in its entirety".
Ironically, Nzimande and his higher education department are also supposed to play a key role achieving the NDP’s goals and vision, given its emphasis on quality education, training and skills development.
But for all their criticism from the left there have not been concrete proposals to improve the NDP, while the NDP commissioners themselves have said the document is not cast in stone and is an evolving, “living document” and a guiding framework only.
It is especially the economic policy section and issues such as employment and the youth wage subsidy that are being and will be attacked by the left.
Already, there are signs that Zuma's government, trapped in its alliance with the left, is capitulating.
Only last week presidential spin doctor, Mac Maharaj, issued a statement defending a much-watered-down version of the originally mooted 'youth wage subsidy' scheme. It will be interesting to see what Minister Gordhan tables in Parliament later this year in this regard.
Also last week the ANC was in the process of reneging on its earlier agreement, reached in Nedlac, to amend South Africa’s labour law on strike ballots, picketing rules and labour brokers in the face of pressure from Cosatu, a much-needed ally for the forthcoming general election.
Despite NPC commissioners and some ANC leaders being open to improving the NDP, the left is unlikely to stop attacking it. Numsa and others in Cosatu are also trying to blackmail the ANC into submission by threatening to withhold their support for the ANC in next year’s elections.
The bottom line is that, with the ANC locked into the alliance and the NDP being rejected by members of Zuma’s government who are supposed to play key implementation roles, there is little chance the NDP is ever going to take off.
But the NDP remains an important visionary document and next week we will look at the leaders and organisations defending it.