The ANC's developmental doublethink

Michael Cardo says the conceptual foundations of the NDP and NDR are simply incompatible

"Development" is the dish of the day on the policy trolley.

During the parliamenatry budget debates last month, every ANC MP served up reheated rhetoric about the importance of implementing the National Development Plan (NDP) in the context of a developmental state.

The recently released Medium Term Strategic Framework claims to "provide a framework for prioritising and sequencing...development initiatives for the next five years".

However, there is Orwellian doublethink at the heart of the ruling party's developmental agenda. The ANC simultaneously holds two contradictory beliefs about development, and seems to accept both of them.

The result is policy incoherence, as well as inaction in implementing the genuinely developmental NDP. At the same time, legislation that controverts the NDP is being steamrollered through Parliament to further the ANC's hegemonic project under the guise of development.

On the one hand, the ANC claims to believe in Amartya Sen's notion of "development as freedom", which provides the NDP (and much of the DA's policy platform) with its conceptual foundations.

For Sen, development is a process of expanding the political and economic freedoms that people enjoy. Development requires the elimination of major sources of "unfreedom" such as tyranny, poverty, limited access to opportunities, social deprivation, and neglect of public facilities.

Above all, development rests upon building people's "capabilities" so that they have the "agency" to become active citizens and make the most of the opportunities they are afforded. In this way, citizens become partners - not dependents - of a capable state whose role is developmental rather than dirigiste.

The NDP is firmly rooted in this approach to development.

On the other hand, the programme adopted and refined by the ANC at its last two policy conferences in pursuit of the "national democratic revolution" (NDR) is almost diametrically opposed to the NDP.

The NDR aims to strengthen and expand the role of the state in the economy. It pioritises a flawed model of redress as the main driver of economic development.

This model of employment equity, black economic empowerment and land reform inists on racial quotas. It is concerned with manipulating outcomes rather than extending opportunities through skills development. And it views its beneficiaries as passive recipients of handouts and favours instead of active partners in their own development.

The doublespeak that results from doublethink is reflected in a raft of recent laws that invoke the word "development" in their titles, but that are neither developmental nor aligned to the NDP.

Laws like the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Amendment Bill and the Infrastructure Development Act will intensify state intervention, deter investment, diminish growth and jobs, and worsen poverty. Ultimately, they will destroy "development as freedom".

Although developmental doublethink is partly a product of the ideological schizophrenia that characterises the tripartite alliance, it serves the ANC's purpose - the pursuit of power - well.

That is why the developmental state has become the ANC's new binding ideology. It serves a similar purpose to the concept of "transformation" that preceded and continues to underpin it. It gives a veneer of ideological coherence to a party that is deeply divided along class lines and loyalty to rival cliques.

Like transformation, the developmental state seems innocuous enough not to warrant contestation. However, it is being used to soft-pedal and legitimate the NDR, through which the ANC aims to amass and centralise power, conflate party and state, entrench executive control and subvert the Constitution.

The responsibility for providing policy clarity on development - and for implementing the NDP - lies with the Presidency.

The Presidency sits at the apex of government. It directs all government business. It serves as the nucleus of strategic leadership and co-ordination, and it is responsible for integrated planning and policy coherence. So the Presidency should lead, not with doublethink, but with single-mindedness on development and the implementation of the NDP. However, it is hopelessly compromised.

The Presidency is unwilling to do battle with the NDP's main detractors, Cosatu and the SACP.

The Minister in the Presidency for Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation, Jeff Radebe, is the ANC's Head of Policy. In this capacity, he has championed the NDR as the ruling party's programme of action. Two years ago, addressing the 91st anniversary celebrations of the SACP, Radebe said, "We will continue to work side by side with the SACP in strengthening this historic Alliance which has done so much in advancing the National Democratic Revolution".

Given the ANC's internal power dynamics, the Deputy President, Cyril Ramaphosa, will struggle to assert his authority as Chairman of the National Planning Commission.

As for President Jacob Zuma, he will be happy just to see out his second term.

The upshot is likely to be more developmental doublethink and less development.

Michael Cardo is a Democratic Alliance Member of Parliament and Deputy Shadow Minister in the Presidency.

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