The NDP and its cheerleaders

The second in Isaac Mogotsi's three part series of articles on the Plan



"The heresy of one age becomes the orthodoxy of the next." - Helen Keller, USA educator.

In one of the most moving endorsement of strategic planning and visionary leadership ever offered, Jose Manuel Barroso, the former Prime Minister of Portugal and the current President of the European Commission, penned an article for Time magazine 's 60 years Anniversary Issue of 13 November 2006, (dedicated to "60 Years of Heroes"), which was a tribute to Jean Monnet, the chief architect and co-founder of the European Union.

Barroso wrote:

"President Kennedy once remarked that, in just 20 years, Jean Monnet did more to unite Europe than a thousand years of conquerors."

It must be the hope of SA National Planning Commission (NPC) Commissioners that their product, the National Development Plan (NDP), will, in turn, be able, in just less than 20 years, to do more to unite South Africans, and create a shared,  fair, and equitable socio-economic prosperity and progress, than 450 years of European colonial conquents, racist apartheid oppression and all types of  misogynist racial and tribalist bigotry ever did for SA.

The astonishingly good news for the NPC is that, in my view, 95 percent of the NDP enjoys close to 100% support across our nation. The depressing news for the NPC is that 5% of NDP does not enjoy universal consensus support in the country. But the truly disheartening news for the NPC is that on the 5% on which there is no national consensus, depends NDP's 95% chances of success.

To paraphrase Winston Churchill, never has so much depended on so litttle for so much with so little natinal comsensus on it.

In my view, the elements making up the outstanding 5% of the NDP are on the economy, including economic growth, on  employment and job creation, land reform and agriculture, beneficiation, econmic ownership/relations of production,, the role of a capable, ethical and  developmental state, and how to address the implications of the SA demographic youth bulge.

The contested and unresolved 5%, I believe,  is the elephant in the NPC's room. It is an elephant that CODESA and the 1996 Constitution, whilst protecting (minority) property rights, pretended does not exist or traipsed around. The TRC process too just glossed over these hard socio-economic issues.

The NDP continues that sordid pretense of our recent history and our collective foolish egg-dance on these most important and potentially  explosive issues. Yet the elephant in the room will not disappear, however hard we pretend it is not there. Because the issues making up the unresolved 5% are at the core of SA developmental crisis and the post-1994 failure of imaginative national leadership. They should enjoy a place of honor in any attempt to craft our long-term development plan and vision, instead of being shafted to the side-lines..

Is it any wonder therefore that COSATU, through Patrick Craven, its national spokesperson, released a statement that said that "NDP was not a programme for fundamental economic change", whilst appearing "to be elevated to the status of the Freedom Charter"? (The New Age, 17 February 2013).

How can the NDP, a document crafted by a few closetted techncrats, be elevated to the same status as the SA Freedom Charter, a document which was the result of inputs of tens of thousands of ordinary South Africans?

The biggest challenge for the NDP is of course in its implementation, as Trevor Manuel rightly pointed out in his speeach to SA parliament on the occasion of the release of the NDP.

At this stage it is worth recalling, by way of a comparison, what others have said about China's success rate of implementation of its five-year plans, the embodiment of its long-term strategic planning and vision, which has led to China's phenomenal growth in the last three decades.

One of the titans of USA industry, and a regular visitor to China for some time, Jeffrey Immelt, General Electric (GE)'s CEO and Chairman, who doubles as the Chairman of USA President Barack Obama's Jobs and Competitiveness Commission, said the following about China in a CNN GPS interview with Fareed Zakaria on 18 September 2011:

"I mean, you know, I've been going to China since 1984. I get the five-year plan from the Chinese government. I make our team to digest them, study it and analyse it because they actually do it..."

Compare this very high and praiseworthy implementation rate of Chinese five-year plans and long-term vision, attested to by a big American capitalist, with the ever enlarging graveyard where post-1994 SA plans, such as RDP, GEAR, ASGISA, Outcome-based Education, New Growth Path (which promised 5 million jobs in five years), Mbeki's African Renaissance, etc, etc, get constantly dumbed down and buried.

[Of course part of our challenge in SA is that there seems to be, for some strange reasons, more pronounced rhetorical and insubstantial policy disputes within the ANC-led Tripartite Alliance, than there are real policy differences between the opposing UK Labour and Conservative governments, or the USA Republicans and Democrats.]

Come 2030, will SA's development plan implementation success rate hold up to that of China?

There are definitely unique and formidable obstacles and challenges before implementation of SA NDP.

The first one relates to what Gwede Mantashe, the ANC SG, echoing Joel Netshitenzhe (Mail & Guardian 2008 interview, vide), pointed to in his Sunday Times SA article of 09 December 2012, under the title "Mangaung is all about the economy", page 5. Mantashe wrote that:

"For the first time since 1994, South Africa has a plan that transcends a term of office to cast its eyes over many years to come."

There is thus no fall-back national institutional memory for such long-range national strategic planning beyond a term of a governing SA administration.

Secondly, whilst the near unanimous national embrace, in my view,  of 95% of the NDP speaks to our society's growing acceptance of, and acquienscence to, the ANC's unrivalled hegemonic position  as the "national strategic and political core" of our society and the leader of our democratic and constitutional dispensation, it is not clear how future internal ANC factional battles, and ruthless succession fights, will impact on the long-term sustainability and continuous implementation of the NDP, going forward.

[It is worth remembering that the ANC national conferences of 1997 in Mahikeng and of 2002 in Stellenbosch both (re-)affirmed support for GEAR. It is this ANC GEAR policy trajectory that prompted both Vukani Mde and Karima Browm to state in their Business Day article of 06 October 2006, entitled "All that was solid melting into air", that former President Thabo Mbeki had "...done more than any leader in modern SA to release the power of capital to shape his presidency and his country." Yet from 2005 GEAR was already under severe ideological assault and siege from the SACP, COSATU and other bedraggled and noisy band of pro-Jacob Zuma ANC supporters, who besmirched and reviled it as a "1996 neoliberal and conservative class project."

On the other hand, Bobby Godsell, (one of the more erudite, eloquent, media-savvy and passionate of the NPC Commissioners and NDP marketers), in his recent address to the Durban Chamber of Cmmerce on NDP, waxed lyrically and memorably that:

"(The NDP) is the golden moment for business."

(Suren Naidoo, "The economy needs to triple in size: Bobby Godsell", The Mercury/Business Report, 07 March 2013). 

A warmer endorsement of the NDP by a representative of Business Leadership SA will be hard to outdo. Has the NDP "released the power of capital to shape the  Zuma presidency and his country", as much as former president Thabo Mbeki is alleged by Mde and Brown to have done? Is all that is solid again melting into thin air under the Zuma presidency?

In his talk of 18 September 1982 with Kim Il Sung, the founder of North Korea, Deng Xiaoping, China's former paramount leader, and the key architect of its phenominally successful 30-rear reform agenda, made it very clear that the crushing defeat of factional politics within the Chinese Communist Party and the shattering defeat of the Gang of Four in 1976-1977, was the sine qua none for his successful return to Chinese national politics and leadership, and for his successful launching and implementation of his huge and ambitious Chinese reform agenda. As he put it, "for one thing, if the 'two whatevers' had been followed, I would never have come back to work. I came back in July 1977, nine months after the Gang of Four had been smashed. It was then that I was allowed to attend the meetings of the Central Committee." (Selected Works of Deng Xiaoping, Volume III, 1982-1992, (1994)).

Can the ANC deliver a similar and decisive smashing of its debilitating culture of  internal factional battles and succession fights, to be able to implement its Vision 2030? Is this too not a sine qua none for the NDP's successful implementation?

The third challenge facing the ANC is the lack of clarity (and even sincerity) on its part regarding the fundamental nature of the politics surrounding the NDP. What really is the over-riding political imperative and purpose of the NDP, from the point of view of the ANC collective leadership? At the end of the day, the NDP is fundamentally about one political and developmental choice of the ANC over all others within its reach. Is it, which is really asking one and the same thing differently, indicative of the emergence and triumph of a particular set of neoliberal and conservative ANC political and policy dynamics, which have made the adoption and approval of the NDP under the Zuma SA and ANC presidency possible?

Is the NDP a future Thatcherite springboard from which the near-future ANC will seek to launch a battering offensive against our all-powerful trade union movement, the media and critical sections of SA civil society, in the name of a "supreme national interest", i.e the NDP?

How will SA's cyclical electoral volatility and open democratic contestations/tensions impact on the nascent and fragile consensus of all parliamentary political parties on the NDP?

Fourthly, perhaps the most important variable  is to establish whether the NDP represents what Helen Zille, the official Opposition DA leader, famously referred to as "the emergence of a progressive centre in South African politics", encompassing all parties represented in SA parliament. Does the NDP do anything of the sort? Why have the SACP and the DA moved from two extremes to mutually embrace each other around their common support for the NDP? How are these two political parties able to evince commonality by taking their fight to those like NUMSA and FAWU, who are pouring cold water on the NDP? This commonality of the SACP and DA around their vanguard and rearguard defence of the NDP promises to shake SA politics to its very foundation. In this narrow and reactionary sense, the NDP is a wholly new and possibly destabilising development.

It is worth noting in passing that whilst Trevor Manuel and the NPC were reported by the media to have refused to comment on Helen Zille's characterisation of the NDP as "the emergence of the progressive centre in SA politics", they were quick off the mark in immediately condemning the critique of the NDP by NUMSA's Irvin Jim.

Is the NDP just another political gimmick by the post-1994 dominant black and white elites, acting in rare concert, to re-empower the already economically powerful white minority in South Africa, in the same way Jacob Zuma lamented and Ngoako Ramatlhodi decried, respectively, (vide), that CODESA and 1996 SA Constitution did?

Or is the NDP  merely a policy cover to legitimise the incubus- and succubus-like feeding-frenzy of emergent and rapacious BEE and state bureaucratic//parasitic black hyenas, who are in an unholy alliance with white big capital? Is it an embodiment, as Rhoda Kadalie put it in a different context, of "an unholy alliance between old and new capital, and between the 'connected few and those that monopolise all the board directorships'"? (The Citizen, "Kings of the castle", 08 March 2013, page 12).

Is the NDP intended to provide a basis for a new, but false, "SA consciousness"? Is it SA's new official and state-sanctioned national developmental "orthodoxy", and the economic hymn book of the lovey-dovey and touchy-feely "SA rainbow reconciliation"? Has the support by the state under President Zuma for it now placed the NDP beyond legitimate and fair criticism, and consecrated it into a state-backed policy dogma which brooks no valid objection to it?

Or is the NDP yet another false SA dawn? A fake promisory note issued by the NPC and Zuma's government, which will bounce when our people try to cash it in 2030, as has happened so often with various but false-dawn policy initiatives in the last 18 years of our democracy?

Acutely aware of the deplorable tendency of human beings to over-promise but under-deliver, meaning human and political fallibility, and the possible falsification by events and facts of self-assured and swashbuckling political theories and bombastic state promises, Malaysia's former Prime Minister, Mahathir Mohamad, once wrote the following about Malaysia's 30-year stretch Vision 20/20, adopted in 1990, and which succeeded its 20-year New Economic Policy:

"Thirty years appeared to be a good span for Malaysia to achieve the status of an industrialised nation. Also, when asked to talk about the Vision, I usually joke that it is far enough into the future that I will not be around to be blamed should we fail to meet the goals." (Mahathir Mohamad, "A New Deal for Asia", 1999, page 41).

Will the architects of the SA NDP "be around to be blamed should we fail to meet the goals" of Vision 2030?

Isaac Mpho Mogotsi, Executive Director, Centre of Economic Diplomacy in Africa (CEDIA). He can be contacted at [email protected] and can be followed at @rabokala1

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