The NDP: Utopia or dystopia?

The first in a three part series by Isaac Mogotsi on the Plan

"The other threat is far more subtle. It is the external threat coming from men of good intentions and good will who wish to reform us. Impatient with the slowness of persuasion and example to achieve the great social changes they envision, they are anxious to use the power of the state to achieve their ends and confident of their ability to do so." Milton Friedman, Capitalism and Freedom, 2002.



In the place of the air of sunshine optimism that surrounded it after its release to the SA national parliament in August last year,, the newly-released SA National Development Plan (NDP), a product of the National Planning Commission (NPC) led by National Planning Minister Trevor Manuel, the (now) ANC deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa and Bobby Godsell of Business Leadership SA, is now drowning in a growing cacophy of self-doubt, self-praise and mudslinging.

From being a potentially significant source of national cohesion and regeneration, the NDP is fast becoming a regrettable source of our new national divisions and bickering.

What seems to have occasioned this sudden change in the mood around the NDP was the extra-ordinary public critique of it by Irvin Jim, the general secretary of the National Union of Metalworkers (NUMSA), the second biggest affiliate of COSATU.

Jim was reported as having said, amongst other things, that:

"The major problem with the NDP is that it protected power relations of colonialism, leaving them intact." (SAPA/Drum Magazine, 07 March 2013).

[In its official Statement, NUMSA's Central Committee declared (about the NDP) that:

"1. It leaves intact, and protects the power relations of Colonialism of a Special Type in post-1994 South Africa." (Large parts of NDP lifted from DA documents - NUMSA", 07 March 2013, NUMSA website)].

Earlier on 17 February 2013, The New Age carried a report by Warren Mabona under the title "Cosatu not at home with Zuma's state of the nation and NDP", in which he wrote that:

"Cosatu spokesperson, Patrick Craven, told The New Age that 'NDP goes back to the old policies of the growth, employment and redistribution strategy.'" Mabona further quoted Craven as having said "NDP was not a programme for fundamental economic change", and that "the NDP, which appears to be elevated to the status of the Freedom Charter...lacked concrete proposals for tackling the problems of poverty, inequality and unemployment."

Another major COSATU affiliate, FAWU, has just publicly joined the fray on the NDP. On 20 March 2013 it released a statement that questioned the broad intent and thrust of the NDP, and called for a Tripartite Alliance Summit to debate the NDP, a nicety the ANC seemingly did not extend to its Alliance partners before the official release of the NDP.

The response of the National Planning Commission (NPC), through the National Planning Minister Trevor Manuel, to NUMSA (and Irvin Jim, its general secretary)'s critique of the NDP, was instant, crude and uncharacteristically highly personalised. It accused Irvin Jim of "infantile disorder" and "an extreme aversion to anything rational."

To some amongst us, the ugly, public outburst of the NPC and Trevor Manuel against NUMSA came like a bolt from the blue.

Yet what NUMSA stated is in fact broadly in line with, and reinforces, ANC President Jacob Zuma's own well-known characterisation of the key outcome of the Convention for a Democratic South Africa (CODESA), almost in the exact terminology used by Irvin Jim and NUMSA to define NDP.

In his Opening Address to the ANC Policy Conference at the Gallagher Estates in Johannesburg on 26 June last year, Jacob Zuma said:

"Amongst underlying causes of the slow pace towards economic freedom is the fact that ahead of the 1994 breakthrough, we went through a negotiations process at CODESA followed by a negotiated settlement. We had to make certain compromises in the national interest and these were necessary."

Zuma further stated:

"For example, we had to be cautious about restructuring the economy, in order to maintain economic stability and confidence.

"Thus the power relations of the apartheid era have in the main remained intact. The ownership of the economy is still primarily in the hands of white males as it has always been."

In my recent Politicsweb article on Gwede Mantashe, the ANC secretary general, I quoted him as having once said that when it comes to the SA economy, the ANC is "not a resistence movement." (Gwede Mantashe: ANC Enforcer and Power-broker).

Very little separates the statements of NUMSA's general secretary, Irvin Jim, and ANC President Jacob Zuma, other than the fact that the former was commenting on the NDP, and the latter on CODESA. No doubt the two statements were born of and informed by the same long-standing revolutionary perspective of the ANC and the Tripartite Alliance.

The harsh economic reality referred to by the two Tripartite Alliance leaders remains at the very heart of lack of economic transformatin in SA, which fact continues to distort and disfigure SA's much-admired post-1994 constitutional and demcratic gains.

It is never going to be easy to successfully craft a vision or a long-term strategy that mobilises the entirety of society around it. It requires a determined and knowledgeable leadership, as well as a profound and correct knowledge of realities of one's society, the true basic interests and fundamental aspirations of the citizens, and the difficult choices and trade-offs that need to be made.

It cannot be reduced to a popularity or beauty contest.

By way of an illustration of the difficulties involved in crafting a vision or long-term plan, take the good example involving no less a personage than SA and ANC President Jacob Zuma himself.

On 21 December 2007, following Zuma's historic victory at the ANC national conference in Polokwane, The Star SA led with a huge headline entitled "Zuma: My Vision." Some of the items on Zuma's Vision (his wish-list, if you like) for his first five-year term as President, according to The Star report, were:

"Two centres of power: Will work with Mbeki", "Land issue: 30% redistribution by 2014", and "Gender: deal with patriarchal oppression."

Five years later, the scorecard for implementation of Zuma's December 2007 Vision is not uplifting, to say the least. It also provides an important and sobering cautionary note about the perils extant in any long-term vision or strategic planning, especially over a 17-year span.

In my long Letter to the Editor (Pretoria News) of 02 December 2011, under the title "Is NDP just mutton dressed up as lamb", I cautioned that the greater danger for the NPC was it becoming "a proxy for the currently dominant and hegemonic neo-liberal agenda and voice, which sought to impose its controversial and contested vision of the future on an unsuspecting society".

I went on to write that:

"The chorus of uniform and hardly undifferentiated liberal media welcome, and uncritical acclaim, of both the Diagnostic Report and the National Development Plan of the NPC, may be a pointer to this sinister aspect. As a result, huge defeats suffered at the ideological and political market-place and through regular elections, can easily be reversed, neutered, and nullified by technocratic practices. That would be South Africa's worst technocratic nightmare." (Pretoria News, page 16).

I am surprised that NUMSA, FAWU, other COSATU affiliates and a raucous gaggle of minority anti-NDP intellectuals/academics are only now waking up to "this sinister aspect" of the NPC.

Some people opposed to the NDP seem to have napped a bit on duty.

My letter to the Pretoria News editor, fortunately or unfortunately, elicited no response from the NPC.

But what is startling is that both President Jacob Zuma, his growing motley crew of advisors and senior Cabinet Ministers, including National Planning Minister Trevor Manuel, did not pay any attention to the very important, in the circumstances,  comment of the UDF, ANC and SACP freedom struggle veteran and former high-ranking SA diplomat, Raymond Suttner, when he wrote about Jacob Zuma ascension to the ANC leadership in Polokwane in 2007 that:

"When big capital appeared to welcome Zuma, they did so with a proviso - that he should not be reckless." (Article entitled "State is half-sinking, half-sailing", Sowetan, 30 March 2010, page 15).

For a long time a revered member of the ANC and SACP policy-making inner sanctum, and one of their brightest policy analysts, Suttner would know.

Is the production and release of the NDP by the Zuma government a signal and re-assurance to "big capital" that ANC President Zuma is not "reckless"? Is "big capital" happy with the signal the NDP sends?

Do President Jacob Zuma and his ANC leadership cohort believe that, in economic terms, the NDP represents a radical break with the fact that "the power relations of the apartheid era have in the main remained intact", and that "the ownership of the economy is still primarily in the hands of white males as it has always been"?

In addition, will the NDP be able to address "the fatal concessions" of the SA Constitution, which were so very ably identified by one of Jacob Zuma's closest policy advisors, a leading ANC intellectual and senior ANC NEC member, Ngoako Ramatlhodi, in his The Times SA article of 01 September 2011?

It will be recalled that in his article, Ramatlhodi bitterly bemoaned and denounced the fact that "these fatal concessions" in the 1996 SA Constitution included the fact that the Constitution was in favor of "forces against change", while "immigrating substantial power away from the legislature and the executive and vesting it in the judiciary, chapter 9 institutions and civil society movements."

How is the NDP's dream of building "a capable, developmental, responsive and ethical state", for implementation of Vision 2030, ever conceivable sans correcting the "CODESA limitations" and "the fatal concessions" in the SA Constitution identified by Zuma and Ramatlhodi respectively?

To ask these questions is not to seek to rain on the celebratory parade of those in the Zuma government, the private sector and their civil society collaborators, who are engaged in giddy self-congratulation and back-slapping at the delivery and release of the NDP to the SA parliament and society.

It is neither to down-play the central role accorded to President Jacob Zuma in driving, and giving a prominent political and executive leadership, to the work of the NPC since he launched it in April 2010..

The NPC deputy chairman, Cyril Ramaphosa, one of the leading SA BEE moguls, spoke highly of the role of Zuma in the crafting of the SA NDP thus:

"And it was his intiative going around the world talking to other leaders and seeing that they have a plan and we too need our own plan. So bingo, we've got a plan." (Carien du Plessis' interview with Cyril Ramaphosa, the ANC deputy president,  entitled "The NDP is the only game in town", City Press, 10 March 2013, page 23).

But this rose-spectacled view of Cyril Ramaphosa regarding Zuma's key role in the conceptualisation, development and release of the NDP, does not sit well, materially and substantially, with the view of his fellow NPC Commissioner and fellow ANC NEC member, Joel Netshitenzhe.

Netshitenzhe, then the head of the policy unit in former President Thabo Mbeki's state presidency, penned a very incisive, forward-looking and enlightening article for Mail & Guardian of 31 October - 06 November 2008, under the title "The shift is not ideological", where, amongst other things, he revealed that the Mbeki government had been animated by the idea of crafting a national development plan at least since the 2003 Growth and Development Summit.

The fundamental point made by Joel Netshitenzhe in his article was that at its January 2007 lekgotla, SA Cabinet noted that:

"It was agreed that South Africa should move in the same direction (as other countries whose national develpment plans were studied) because modern societies face complex challenges which cannot be dealt with in an ad hoc manner; countries operate in a global environment with uncertainty and turbulence (and therefore need) a vision and plan to stay on track; (and the long lead time of social transformation) require a society that is mobilised and focused, with a leadership by a developmental state."

In the overall context outlined in Joel Netshitenzhe's article, it is safe to conclude that the NDP of Manuel, Ramaphosa and Godsell's NPC (which includes Netshitenzhe himself as a leading brain trust) does not represent a new policy Epiphany, nor an ideological shift from GEAR, the policy framework for the January 2007 former president Thabo Mbeki's Cabinet lekgotla discussions on a national development plan and long-term vision for South Africa.

[So Cyril Ramaphosa, possibly for reasons that have to do with internal ANC partisan and factional dynamics, and his attempt to position himself as Zuma's undisputed successor, was being severely economic with the truth in his City Press interview with Carien du Plessis (ibid).

Why did Joel Netshitenzhe feel the need at that crucial political point in time to provide the SA public with all these vital details about the work which  the Mbeki Cabinet did to come up with a national strategic plan and a long-term vision?

As if providing an anticipatory answer to this pertinent question, Netshitenzhe wrote:

"Because of the incomplete nature of the work, and the character of the platforms (Cabinet, and ANC NEC sub-committees) where the ideas were being canvassed, it was not possible formally to communicate the details."

Most crucially, Netshitenzhe added::

"However, because the SACP, in its wisdom, raised these matters publicly, the impression was created in some media reports that an unthinking ANC had - hook, line and sinker - swallowed prescriptions from outside its ranks...The danger in such a misrepresentation is that an ideological and even conflictual bent is incorrectly attributed to what is otherwise a logical approach to matters of state efficiency and leadership in the context of national development...Debate should continue and, hopefully, ongoing work will reach the public domain as such, rather than falsely as demands to which the ANC is imagined to accede. Thus the public will not be misled into reading ideological shifts where none exist."

My understanding  is that "ongoing work", which Netshitenzhe was referring to did "reach the public domain", in the form of the NPC's Diagnostic Report, firstly and the NDP. True, the other NPC Commissioners were later drawn into the NPC from outside the Zuma governmnet and outside the SA state, unlike the Mbeki presidency's policy unit Netshitenzhe led. However, that  did not seem to have detracted from the fact that work continued, post the Mbeki era, and post-haste, on what Netshitenzhe called "...a logical approach to matters of state efficiency and leadership in the context of national development."

The newly-released NDP does not, therefore, represent a radical ideological and policy departure from GEAR. The fact that both Trevor Manuel, the National Planning Minister, (who was a long-serving Finance Minister between 1996-2008)), and Joel Netshitenzhe, the NDP Commissioner, (for a long time Mbeki's policy honcho), were leading members of the Mbeki administration, (what the SACP, COSATU, NUMSA and others used to derogatively call "the 1996 Class Project"), but have now reincarnated themselves as leading lights and architects of the NDP under the Zuma administration, embodies the veracity that there is more continuity than change between GEAR and NDP.

In a word, despite loud protestations from its key architects like Trevor Manuel, and from its key backers like the SACP under Blade Nzimande and Jeremy Cronin's leadership, the NDP is just a mutant of the neoliberal and conservative ideology of GEAR.

If any lingering doubt still exists that the Zuma and Manuel NDP is the proud policy inheritor of GEAR's "the neoliberal and conservative" mantle, the following must constitute proof-positive to that effect.

In 2005 the government of former President Thabo Mbeki produced a report called "South Africa - Millennium Development Goals (MDGs): Country Report", as part of its international report-back obligation to the United Nations (UN) on its mid-term implementation of the UN MDGs. A comparison between this SA mid-term Country Report on the MDGs and some of the important socio-economic goals, plans and milestones of the newly-released NDP is striking and uncanny, as if they were literally "lifted from" the SA MDG Country Report.

Of course it is now clear that SA is nowhere near achieving most of the UN MDGs by 2015, partly due to the global financial crisis of 2008.

Yet some of the UN MDGs the SA government committed to meet and achieve in 2015 (in two years' time from now), are now enigmatically postponed by the NDP for another seventeen years (to 2030).

If this understanding is correct, this is surprising and deeply disappointing indeed. That would constitute an unforgivable sleight of policy hand.

A clearer expose by the NPC of the relationship between SA government's commitment to implementing the UN MDGs by 2015, and the undertakings of the NDP for its Vision 2030 would be most helpful.

Jabulane Sikhakhane, the former Pretoria News managing director, once wrote that "Trevor Manuel's 20- year vision for the country is nothing but a case of marching back to the past..." (Pretoria News article entitled "Plan a dream without tolerance, compromise", 25 November 2011, page 17).

The NDP would certainly be "a case of marching back" if it merely regurgitates old SA plans under a new guise, or if it is just old Cape wines in new KZN bottles.

But why has the NDP been released to so much national acclaim, to such a rare endorsement and support by our entire political class represented in our national parliament, by literally all business formations in the country, if it is "a case of marching back"?  And why was it adopted by the overwhelming majority of the duly accredited ANC delegates at its 53rd national elective conference in Mangaung last December?

After all, even a respected, veteran journalist and newspaper editor like Mpumelelo Mkhabele of the Sowetan stated recently that "only those in Jupiter would refuse to associate themselves with its (NDP's) positive vision"? (Sowetan Editorial, "Why do in 2030 what we can do in 2013", 21 February 2013).

Why did the work of former President Mbeki's Cabinet on a long-term development plan and vision not meet with a similar popular acclaim? Was it only because it took place in Cabinet and ANC NEC sub-committees?

A brilliant Sunday Times SA article of 28 September 2008, written by Rowan Philip, provides an informative background and perspective to this interesting national debate. The article, written eight months before Jacob Zuma became SA state president, was entitled "SA In 2025: Take Your Pick - Government Report Offers Three Very Different Futures."

Rowan Philip reported on the SA government scenario planning report under the title "South Africa Scenarios 2025: The future we chose?" One of the three scenarios put forward by the government report, which was drafted whilst Thabo Mbeki was still our state president, was named "Scenario 2: The Nkalakatha Nation."

Safe to say that "Scenario 2: The Nkalakatha Nation", bears striking resemblence to some of the important elements of the NDP, with the important caveat that whilst we would be the Nkalakatha Nation in 2025, according to the 2008 gvernment report Scenario 2, the NDP promises us to attain an African Nirvana in 2030. And of course there was much greater canvassing of non-gvernmental and public opinion around NPC's NDP, and a larger scope of issues covered.

But if there is one thing Rowan Philip's article demonstrates, it is the fact that the SA reading public was informed of the work of former President Mbeki's government on a national development plan and long-term vision.

The NPC did not write the NDP on a tabula rasa.

So in effect the NDP has shifted backward the timeline for the attainment of some important UN MDGs the Mbeki government had committed to meet in 2015, and has shited also the timeline for the attainment of the Nkalakatha Nation: Scenario 2, according to the Mbeki government's scenario planning report.

Why is NDP then presented as some unprecedented progressive policy breakthrough of note?

Clearly, SA society and especially its elites seem to hanker after and to be ready to embrace a non-party political and over-arching long-term national plan and vision.

About this there is no doubt.

But is the newly-released NDP such a long-tern national plan and vision?

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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