On Sunday, the ANC, South African Communist Party and Cosatu announced that they had decided to “push ahead” with implementing sections of the National Development Plan (NDP) that they all agree on. (The areas on which they disagree have been left to an alliance task team to work through.) The problem is that the NDP is not like a box of chocolates where you can choose what you like and leave the gooey ones for someone else to deal with. And government is on record as saying the NDP “needs to be implemented in the right order over the next 17 years”. Is it even possible to implement the NDP piecemeal? By RANJENI MUNUSAMY.
The biggest worry for those attending last weekend’s alliance summit was how they would deal with the NDP, considering that the SACP and Cosatu were opposed to it – in varying degrees. The issues of difference on the economy and labour market are fundamental and complex, and it was clearly not possible to resolve these at the summit.
But even without soliciting comment about it, ANC, Cosatu and SACP leaders were happy to share during informal exchanges with journalists that there were no “fights” about the NDP in the meeting. Of course the meeting was not attended by, among others, the National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa), which is violently opposed to the NDP, and suspended Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi, who says the plan is a reincarnation of the much-hated Gear policy.
By all accounts, however, there were candid discussions about the NDP and the management of South Africa’s economy during the three-day alliance meeting. Those talks yielded no firm outcomes, other than to defer the big issues to a task team compromised of all the alliance partners.
At a media briefing after the summit, it was announced that the parties agreed there is a need for national long range planning, that the planning work of the National Planning Commission needs now to be more effectively institutionalised and taken forward within the state, and that the NDP was a “living document” that should be adapted, where appropriate.
“Where there is agreement on the positive elements, such as the need for a capable developmental state, we shall push ahead with implementation. The recently concluded public sector services charter between government and unions, is a good example of this, as are the important NDP recommendations on fighting corruption, and spatial transformation,” the alliance partners said in the summit declaration.
ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe told the media: “The emphasis was not on where we disagreed. The emphasis was on what we agreed and on that we should drive and start running.”
President Jacob Zuma confirmed this on Tuesday at a breakfast meeting with editors, saying the alliance leadership were “all very happy” with the outcome of the summit, and that the differences were “minimal”. “We might have agreed always but we have created a mechanism to take those issues where we disagree forward while implementing the plan,” Zuma said.
“The NDP is generally difficult to disagree with,” the president said.
But the reason why the NDP cannot be implemented according to how the National Planning Commission (NPC) envisaged it would be is precisely because of the opposition to it from within the alliance. The NPC, chaired by Minister Trevor Manuel, obviously did not foresee that the plan would be chopped up and implemented in chunks based on which was least objectionable.
At a media briefing in February on the implementation of the NDP, Manuel and Performance Monitoring and Evaluation Minister Collins Chabane said “The NDP and its proposals will need to be implemented in the right order over the next 17 years”.
“NDP proposals are being incorporated into the existing activities of departments and broken down into the medium and short-term plans of government at national, provincial and municipal level. The NDP provides the golden thread that brings coherence and consistency to these different plans.
“Government has already started a process to align the long-term plans of departments with the NDP and to identify areas where policy change is required to ensure consistency and coherence. Each government programme will have to be backed by detailed implementation plans which clearly set out choices made, actions that need to be undertaken and their sequencing,” the ministers said.
This will obviously all have to change now as a new implementation plan will need to be developed, sequenced and incorporated into government programmes, in accordance with the alliance decision. New budgeting plans will also need to be worked out.
But would the NDP be workable if it were to be implemented piecemeal? Not according to the brains behind the plan. At a dialogue on the implementation of the NDP facilitated by KPMG and Business Leadership South Africa, Manuel emphasised that the plan was not linear, as several of its key objectives are interlinked and have direct impact on one another’s successful implementation.
Another member of the NPC told Daily Maverick that the plan was developed to roll out in tandem, and that it would not make sense to search for uncontested bits and implement those.
“Those who think this is possible have clearly not read the whole NDP. For example if they think that the chapter on the economy is where the problem lies, if you go to the next chapter on infrastructure, it talks about concessioning, privatisation, the unbundling of Eskom etc. Cosatu will never agree to that,” the commissioner, who asked not to be named, said.
He said the chapters on land and human settlements would also be contested. “On land, the NDP does not differ from the ‘willing buyer, willing seller’ approach. The issue of housing is linked to the land question and the NDP does not specify who is going to build the houses, the quality or financing,” he said.
“In almost every chapter, there are bound to be things that will be opposed. Who is going to decide which parts must go ahead?” the commissioner asked.
And despite the ceasefire at the alliance summit, the pressure on the NDP remains from the SACP and sections of Cosatu.
Writing in the SACP’s online newsletter on Thursday, the party’s deputy general secretary Jeremy Cronin challenged Manuel on comments he made at a Ruth First lecture last week and the ideological slant of the NDP.
Cronin said the hegemonic interests monopoly capital continued to be active and present. “These interests dominate our economy, the configuration of our infrastructure, the allocation of energy and water resources, and what gets presented as ‘common sense’ in the commercial media…
“In fact, the pursuit of such an all-inclusive mythical South African ‘we’ is the greatest obstacle to developing a clear strategic programme and an effective patriotic front to address the systemic features of our society that are reproducing poverty and inequality. And it is this macro-political pursuit of an all-inclusive South African social compact, rather than any specific strengths and weaknesses, that most concerns the SACP about the NDP,” Cronin wrote.
Numsa has similar concerns, though not so subtly expressed. General secretary of the metalworkers union Irvin Jim said the NDP was “championing Thatcherism”, and was no different from the policies of the Democratic Alliance and the Free Market Foundation. The NDP was creating a “mirage” about the future, while avoiding major issues such as creating equal access to the economy for all South Africans, Jim said.
He said although Numsa did not attend the alliance summit, they still had a right to condemn the outcomes. He said there was no way Numsa would accept a partial implementation of the NDP.
“There should be nothing implemented. The NDP needs to be totally overhauled… As long as the NDP is not addressing the structure of the economy and equal access to the economy of the country, it cannot be implemented. The alliance is not using political power to take control of the national wealth, to take ownership and control of the economy, to own and control our minerals.
“It is just confusing and misleading the working class by saying the issues of the economy need to wait and the things that are uncontroversial can be implemented,” Jim said.
Government is now planning to build capacity within the state to begin implementation of the NDP, but it is now uncertain how this new structure will function in light of sustained opposition to the plan. It is also unclear whether the decision as to which parts of the NDP should go ahead for implementation rests with government or the alliance task team.
It takes deep understanding of the NDP to see the problem with the alliance decision. You cannot keep the peace by contorting the plan. And one person with such understanding described the situation as such: it is like constructing a big, state-of-the art vehicle to carry us on a long journey and then deciding that in order to stop the passengers fighting, you only take one tyre and the steering wheel on the trip.
But this isn’t even the problem. The problem is that we still have no idea where we are going or the direction to take. Until somebody is able to identify the destination, the NDP, the alliance and South Africa are stuck at the crossing where politics and reason collide. DM
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