The NDP and its discontents

The third article in Isaac Mogotsi's three part series on the Plan

"There is only one thing that I know for certain: the value judgments of human beings are undoubtedly guided by their desire for happiness and thus amount to an attempt to back up their illusions with arguments." Sigmund Freud, the Austrian psycho-analyst, from his classic,  " - Civilization and its Discontents", New Penguin, 2002.

One of the most intriguing questions in recent, post-1994 ANC policy-making history is: Why was the National Development Plan (NDP) not endorsed by the ANC national policy conference of June last year, but was overwhelmingly adopted by the ANC national elective conference a few months later in Mangaung in December last year?

The NDP is the biggest ANC policy initiative in a generation, meant to guide the ANC's thinking on SA development for at least the next two decades (a generation). On the other hand, the ANC national policy conference, such as the one which took place last June, is the most appropriate forum to debate and guide ANC structures on very important ANC policy initiatives, such as the NDP, whilst leaving it to the ANC national elective conference to finally approve and adopt such policy recommendations. Since at least its 1969 exile-period Morogoro conference, the ANC has found time to devote a considerable part of its busy schedule for the sole purpose of thrashing out its major policy challenges and choices, which is one of the its admirable qualities, and undoubtedly one of the reasons for its durability, unity of purpose and clarity of its strategy and tactics.

But why did the ANC under Jacob Zuma and Gwede Mantashe drop the ball this time around on the NDP, ending up with the wholly inappropriate and unprecedented situation where a major ANC policy initiative in a generation , i.e the NDP, did not enjoy the formal approval and endorsement of the ANC national policy conference last June? How come the NDP did not reach the ANC 53rd national conference as a policy recommendation from the ANC policy conference of last June? After all the ANC national elective conference in Mangaung last December, as the highest decision-making instance, had a broad and almost unwieldy agenda which was too eclectic and all-encompassing to permit for the kind of laser-beam focus on policy discussions and exchanges, such as on the NDP. So the ANC 53rd national conference could not have conceivably debated and understood the NDP better or deeper than the ANC policy conference of June last year. To make such a bold claim would be to advance a bald mendacity.

An interesting possible answer to this intriguing puzzle was provided by two of the leaders of the SA National Planning Commission (NPC), namely National Planning Minister Trevor Manuel and now ANC deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa.

Both Manuel and Ramaphosa were extensively quoted by SAPA on 15 August 2012, following Trevor Manuel's release of the NPD to SA national parliament.

Here is what Trevor Manuel said about why the ANC national policy conference of June last year did not endorse the NDP, according to the SAPA report:

"Had the plan been submitted to the ANC policy conference in June rather, it would have been mauled and likely be reworked into a cumbersome form. It's fate may have then been similar to that of a fine horse transformed into a 'seven-humped camel'", said Manuel.

How a legitimately constituted ANC national policy conference can be suspected by Manuel of carrying within itself the ability to allow 'a fine horse" to be "transformed into a 'seven-humped camel'" or "rework it (the NDP) into a cumbersome form", Trevor Manuel did not care to explain.

His deputy at the SA NPC, and now ANC deputy president, Cyril Ramaphosa, said the following at the same NPC media briefing on the NDP, as quoted by SAPA:

"I don't think we should fuss too much about the ANC policy conference not having expressed itself expressly", he said. "The national conference will", he added. "If it (the policy conference) had done so, many would have aligned themselves against the plan and said it was an ANC plan and not came out in full support", said Ramaphosa.

Now it is not clear why Ramaphosa would believe "many would have aligned themselves against the plan and said it was an ANC plan", when the ANC national policy conference, like the ANC national elective conference, is an important instance of the very same ANC. Why would people "align themselves against" the outcome of the ANC policy conference, on the one hand, but find it within themselves to "align themselves" in favour of the outcome of the ANC national elective conference, whilst potentially both outcomes are on one and the same policy?

It was Nic Boraine, the SA politics and investment analyst, who, in his 'Politics and Investment' blog, made perhaps the best attempt at clearing the cobweb around this issue.

Whilst brilliantly deconstructing Steven Friedman's clumsy, inept and bizarre deployment  of the terms "nationalist" and "non-nationalist" (an unintended  blow-back to "whites" and "non-whites" SA terminology of pre-1994 apartheid era) to refer to ANC's factional groupings at the ANC Mangaung conference last December, (See Steven Friedman, Business Day, "Mangaung defeat of nationalists leaves ANC in far better shape", 27 December 2012), Boraine wrote, amongst other things, under what he termed "the expected", that:

4. "Because the National Conference of the ANC is not the kind of forum in which decisive interventions or radical new directions can be formulated (it takes place over 5 days, has a long and complex agenda, entails many rounds of voting by 4 000-plus branch delegates who are often unskilled in policy matters and who are generally organised into large voting blocs by contending factions for leadership), there were no such interventions and (no unexpectedly) new policy directions."

Boraine further wrote:

"However, the full policy platform of the incumbents...was accepted in full (but in a very broad, vague, poorly attended and poorly discussed commission process at the conference)." (Boraine, "Mangaung takes, outtakes and takeouts", 30 December 2012).


This interpretation by Nico Boraine, which has not once been challenged by ANC thinkers and NPC Commissioners, seems logical and highly plausible.

Could this be the reason why Trevor Manuel and Cyril Ramaphosa, respectively, as reported by SAPA of 15 August 2012, were crowing and crooning that it was as well the ANC national policy conference of last June did not transform "a fine horse" into a "seven-humped camel", and that there was no need to "fuss" over the fact that the ANC national policy conference did not "expressly... express" itself on the NDP?

This matter assumes great significance given Manuel's other put-down of NUMSA's Irvin Jim in their recent vicious public spat over the NDP, when he (Manuel)  stated the following about Irvin Jinn NUMSA's secretary general:

"He arrogates to himself as a custodian of ANC policies, power much greater than the 4500 delegates who gathered at the 53rd National Conference in Mangaung." (NPC Statement in Response to NUMSA general secretary Irvin Jim's Critique of the NDP).

On one hand Trevor Manuel openly disparages the ANC national policy conference debate on the NDP by saying it might have changed "a fine horse" and transformed it into "a seven-humped camel", yet on the other hand, he stoutly protects the "power" of the ANC national elective conference to debate and resolve on the NDP, which "power" he accuses Irvin Jim of NUMSA of seeking to elevate himself above.

This brings us to another critical question.

What actually prevented some of SA's best, brightest and finest minds in the fields of visionary leadership, long-term strategic planning and developmental studies, i.e the 26 NPC Commissioners, from exhaustively engaging with, and, if at all possible, accommodating some of the apparently valid concerns of those who are now throwing brickbats in public at the NDP?  

A part of the answer to these questions might have been indirectly suggested by Salieh Fakir in his The New Age article entitled "Mistra and the role of policy think tanks", which appeared on 30 March 2011, page 23.

In this piece, Fakir noted that, (and it is worth quoting at some length):

"There is very little time to think years in advance. This element of long-term strategic thinking was missing way back as it is now. The creation of the National Planning Commission (NPC) seeks to remedy that." Fakir further wrote that "the NPC's role is increasingly that of a government think tank. It has highly capable commissioners and a secretariat. It also draws in an egalitarian way from different sources. But it also has limitations in what it can say and do because of the nature of what it is - an encumbered government agency."

And then Fakir hit at the nub of the matter regarding the current ballyhoo around the NDP:

"There is always a danger that strategic thinking can be dull, inane and lead to old ideas being recycled with a new package. This would be so if the exercise of strategic intelligence comes from the same circle of people and producers of policy ideas who live all their life within a closed loop of peers and friends. Or, putting it another way, if the same circle of cohorts are not exposed to fresh and external views nothing really refreshing is produced. Policy thinking can't be always tamed from its partisan or special interest. However, the reality is that partisan affiliations will produce slender opportunities for critical thinking."

Is a sense of beleaguered insularity wrapping itself around the NPC Commissioners and President Jacob Zuma's Cabinet regarding the NDP, making them deaf to and intolerant of the now rising stream of unending criticism levelled at their pet project?

Are the NPC Commissioners and President Jacob Zuma transforming, by stealth, the NDP from being a seeker of national consensus on our national develpment plan for the next 17 years, into a terrifying government diktat and an instrument of ruthless state coersion to silence the NDP's critics and to cow them into a pathetic, grovelling and uncritical embrace of the NDP? Can the (now clearly) narcissistic NPC, in its self-created bitter partisanship mode, vitriolic snipping at the NDP dissidents, and openly biased in favor of its own product, still be trusted to impartially and objectively listen to all views on the NDP, including those views it does not fancy or deems offensive? Given its clear partisan conceit in defence of the NDPt, can the NPC still be trusted to impartially take the NDP forward? Or should the task now fall on the much-talked about Economic CODESA, as the NPC's ill-tempered partisan outburst seems to have compromised it beyond redemption??

But why this sudden ferocious arrodance on the part of the NPC around the NDP? Where from its all-of-a-sudden ostensible insecurity, defensiveness, thin skin and nervousness? Is the NPC unaware of the DA and Helen Zille's boast that many of the NDP recommendations derive from the DA's "analytical framework" and the DA's claim that it is already implementing some of the policy recommendations contained in the NDP, such as on transportation and land reform?

A clue to the NPC's new-found jumped-up sense was offered by Aubrey Matshiqi in his Business Day article entitled "ANC support for NDP is a dilemma for the left", which appeared on 11 March 2013. In it Matshiqi wrote that:

"The advantage for the ANC is that those who want a wholesale rejection of the NDP are unlikely to win majority support in the alliance. The real challenge is to decide on those aspects of the NDP that must be turned into government policy."

Maybe there is a growing sense amongst the majority of NPC Cmmissioners and within President Jacob Zuma's Cabinet that the NDP has reached a stage where policy disputes and differences on it must be settle by a vote in our national elections next year, in the same way the voting at the ANC 53rd national elective conference was supposed to have put to rest the internal ANC and Tripartite Alliance squabbles and ruckus around the NDP.

Such an approach is a dangerous illusion and the height of policy-making folly. It is the surest way to ensure that the NDP becomes stillborn in gestation. Taking the NDP to a vote will be as counter-productive in the long-run as would be taking the ANC's unpopular and minority position on the death penaltty to a vote. It can be done, but is not desirable.

Addressing the SA national parliament on the occasion of the release of the NPC's Diagnostic Report on 09 June 2011, the National Planning Minister Trevor Manuel evocatively said:

"...I can go on longer singing the praises of our country, our people and our government. But my job today is not to be an imbongi (praise singer)."

Without turning himself into "an imbongi" for the NDP's discontents and dissidents, the NPC Commissioners do not have to launch a witch-hunt and smear campaign against  those still holding a different view on the NDP, as Trevor Manuel recently did against NUMSA's Irvin Jim.

The SABC3 reported on its Friday 22 March 2013 evening news bulletin that ANC President Jacob Zuma too told the ANC Kwa Zulu-Natal ANC provincial gathering that those criticizing the NDP, especually from within the Tripartite Alliance, were displaying "no respect to the delegates" at the ANC 53rd national elective conference in Mangaung last December, who overwhelmingly adopted the NDP.

It is clear that even the highest level of our government and the SA state can no longer tolerate outspoken dissent on the NDP, yet can at the same afford itself the luxury of openly criticising CODESA, our 1996 Constitution and GEAR. It all sounds like selectilve political morality that riles.

This vehement official intolerance of criticism of a national policy intiative like NDP is a surprising and unhealthy development in a our constitutional democracy. It really should not stand, because it is impermissible in a constitutional democracy.

In my Pretoria News article of 02 December 2011, I pointed out, in reference to the work of the NPC, that:

"It is indeed possible to predict the future based upon past and present empirical data, allowing for the fact that our predictions may be falsified by the passage of time, instead of seeking to present them as unchallenged and unalterable mathematical theorems or unchallengeable ideological and dogmatic shibboleths."

For the NDP to become the imuch-hoped for nstrument of national inspiration, cohesion and vibrancy, its purpose must transcend petty point-scoring and the political vindictiveness of a majoritarian variety or of a Menshevik bent.

It needs to become our country's most potent unifying and inspiring force. Its birth cannot be tainted by an ideological sin of bitter class partisanship and warfare, or be shrouded in the chutzpah of puerile but hegemonic policy-making brinkmanship.

The NDP must be the most transparent, open, dynamic, accomodating and ongoing of our post 1994 policy initiatives. It must be work-in-progress until minight 31 December 2030.

When will SA attain a broad and over-arching long-term strategic plan and vision, embraced by all, which can remain unchanged for 17, 25 or 30 years?

Is the NDP such an enduring national policy for SA?

A broad national policy can remain unchanged, in its basic thrust, for a generation or more, if it accords with (the ever changing) realities on the ground in a country, and if it embodies the fundamental aspirations and basic interests of the entirety of a country's people.

The SA Freedom Charter of 1955 is such a policy.

The SA NDP of 2012, as currently crafted,, is not such a policy.

In The New Age article, under the title "Getting buy-in for growth plan", which appeared on 09 February 2012, and which represented one of the best and most constructive inputs to the NPC's process on the NDP, Steuart Pennington, the CEO of South Africa - The Good News, wrote that "the most important element of the National Development Plan is buy-in". Pennington further stated that this buy-in should come from six elements: Government, opposition parties, business, civil society, citizens, and media.

Pennington concluded the article thus:

"Quite simply, if there is not buy-in at every level, the 26 National Planning commissioners have wasted their time and our 430-page National Development Plan will gather dust somewhere in the Union Buildings. I trust, Mr President, you will not allow this to happen."

It is clear that the NDP, to the NPC Commissioners and President Jacob Zuma's eternal credit, enjoys the solid and broad  support of government, business, media and all parties represented in our national parliament. However, it does not yet enjoy the solid and broad support of all SA civil society formations and all our citizens, at least not in the way our 1996 Constitution does.

[Recently President Jacob Zuma accused the opposition parties in SA parliament of acting against the intertests of those who elected them to parliament by seeking to gang-up against the ANC and "...attacked opposition parties in parliament by saying that they are losing their identies by speaking with one voice on a range of issues". (See Caiphus Kgosana, The Times SA, article "United opposition 'bad for democracy': Zuma", 22 February 2013, page 4).

Does this "deplorable behavior" of opposition parties in SA parliament, alleged by President Zuma, extend to their unanimous support for, and some say to their uncritical ganging-up in favor of, the NDP, when they all spoke up the NDP's virtues during its release to parliament last August last year? Does the opposition parties' position on the NDP, when they spoke "with one voice", not betray the interests of those who elected them to SA parliament?

Shouldn't the NPC Commissioners and SA President Zuma ensure that the NDP enjoys the "buy-in" from "every level", including from civil society and our citizens, as Steuart Pennington advised?

Or should the NPC and Zuma's Cabinet  proceed with the NDP's implementation, post-haste, even if they do not get buy-in from every level of our society, just as former President Thabo Mbeki and his Cabinet once did, post-haste, with regard to GEAR? Even if such riding of rough-shod over some civil society formations and some of our citizens  may result in the NDP "gathering dust in the Union Buildings"?

Has the NDP become a matter of our democratic government's pride (and fall), or is it still a matter of our country's path forward (and rise)?

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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