Note: Professor Maluleke has written this article in his capacity as the Deputy Chairperson of the National Planning Commission.
In its capacity as an independent advisory body appointed by the President in line with the National Planning Commission (NPC) Green Paper, the NPC publishes this Call to Action together with the 10-year review findings, without fear or favour. The NPC will continue to carry out its mandate in the interest of the country and its role as author and custodian of the NDP. Through the 10-year review, the NPC dares to point out the gaping distance between many NDP objectives and their implementation — a ‘distance’ through which South Africans have been living daily for the past decade.
This time around, we would like to urge all role players and South Africans in general to do more than engage in a search for excuses in light of the mirror of the review findings. We have to confront the undeniable reality that, while there have been several positive developments and findings in the past decade, our country has, by and large, failed to achieve a consistent and positive growth trajectory towards meeting the NDP targets. More effort should be put into understanding the gaps and the errors that occasioned the ‘failures’ than in exaggerating the few ‘successes’. The former offers us our best chances for corrective action while the latter can easily lull us into complacency.
Whereas the NPC welcomes, encourages and looks forward to engagement with the NDP 10-year review, we do hope that this time around, all interlocutors and role players will resist the temptation to look for easy culprits and simple diagnoses. The easiest culprit of all, is the NDP itself. A rather concerning set of suggestions invoked in some quarters are those proposing that the NDP is either not a plan or not a good plan and therefore it is to blame for its own non-implementation. Talk about blaming the ‘victim’!
Sometimes the extreme suggestion — often without substantiation — is made that the NDP is only a vision and not a plan. Our sense is that these misplaced suggestions are probably also a function of a lack of deep familiarity with the NDP and an inadequate appreciation of the nature of a long-term plan, as opposed to either a short-term plan or an implementation framework.
Whereas the NDP may be the blueprint out of which local, provincial and national short-term to medium-term plans may be crafted, the NDP itself can neither substitute for a short-term plan nor be criticised for not being a short-term plan.
Most unfortunate is the unhelpful suggestion, also peddled in some quarters, that the NDP set the bar too high when it posited objectives and targets for the country intended to drastically reduce poverty, inequality and unemployment. As if poverty, inequality and unemployment should ever be tolerated one more day, week, month or year in this country! We have to eschew the suggestion that either the horizon of the NDP should be extended or its objectives and targets should be dumbed down.
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It is as if the country that set a destination for itself in 2012 is now being encouraged to settle for a lesser, nearer and imprecise destination. South Africans deserve no less than the country ‘promised’ in the NDP. We may not be able to reach that destination in the time period initially envisaged, but we have to do our best to keep moving towards it.
To paraphrase Martin Luther King Junior in his famous speech at Spelman College, if we cannot fly to the South Africa of 2030 as envisaged in the NDP, we must run towards it. If we cannot run, we must walk towards it. If we cannot walk, we must crawl towards it. If we cannot crawl will must roll our bodies towards it, but whatever we do, we must keep moving towards the South Africa of 2030 as envisaged in the NDP.
The NPC Call to Action suggests that we should throw every ounce of energy in every sinew and every ligament of our body politic to push towards the finish line with renewed determination.
We have noted some concerns about 2030 being a destination that is too close, given that we are left with only seven years. But let us remember that the NDP was adopted as an 18-year plan, 11 years ago. Responsibility must be taken for the wilful neglect of the NDP and the missed opportunities, over and above the unforeseen impediments that occurred along the way. Only thus can corrective action be put in place towards 2030 and beyond.
Frustration and despair
Perhaps the most pernicious of all the godforsaken suggestions in circulation is the ill-conceived advice — seldom stated in so many words — coming from those who are actually encouraging the nation to give up on the NDP altogether. The suggestion is not only that we ditch the NDP, and all the instruments intended to support its implementation — however inadequate — but that we as a nation, should spend the next seven years like a rudderless ship floating at sea, flailing and frantically trying out all manner of cut-and-paste experiments culled from anywhere and everywhere, except South Africa.
Clearly, some of these reckless suggestions come from a place of deep despair, nihilism and self-doubt. Indeed, some interlocutors are eager to reduce the reasons for poor implementation of the NDP to one or two causes, dismissing all other considerations. The NPC has found that, while the marginalisation of the NDP may be the root cause, there are several interlocking factors that have brought the country to this point.
In our view, the significance of the NDP 10-year review lies not only in the well-researched and evidence-based findings contained in it but also in the extent to which the review will assist the nation in understanding how we lost our way, how we failed to institutionalise and implement a consistent and coherent national planning system as well as how the capacity to implement was either lost or destroyed across the public sector, between the public and the private sector stakeholders and across society at large.
More than numbers and statistics, the 10-year review is about flesh and blood South Africans buckling under the weight of poverty, inequality, unemployment and corruption. The review has revealed to us that beyond and behind the missed targets and objectives, there is a nation at risk of losing the hope, the trust, and the confidence that once defined us, barely 10 years ago.
The Call to Action is therefore a summoning of the nation back to the path of hope and back to building what Steve Biko once described as “a country with a more human face”, a country which president Nelson Mandela, at his inauguration, described as a country where there will be “work, bread, water and salt for all”.
We welcome Daily Maverick’s decision to publish the full Call for Action.
National Planning Commission 10-Year Review 2012-2022:
A call to action
The third National Planning Commission (NPC) has completed a detailed and thorough review of the progress made in the 10 years since the adoption of the National Development Plan (NDP) in 2012. The NDP is the only cross-cutting long-term plan for national development in South Africa. This evidence-based review clearly shows that insufficient progress has been made towards the achievement of the NDP goals. Nevertheless, a number of key and ongoing initiatives provide a basis for hope. Hence this Call to Action by the NPC.
We call on all South Africans to refocus on the goals of the NDP. Government cannot achieve the goals of the NDP alone but needs the whole of society to partner with it. In its role as an independent advisory body and custodian of the NDP, the NPC strives to mobilise society towards the NDP: Vision 2030, encouraging ownership of the NDP by all key societal stakeholders.
The key goals of the NDP include the elimination of poverty, and the reduction of inequality and unemployment by 2030. However, for these critical goals to be reached, the envisaged economic, social, and environmental fundamentals must be in place.
These include an economy that not only grows at the requisite pace but is also inclusive of those currently excluded from the benefits of economic growth. This means we need labour-absorbing strategies, an education system that produces a quality workforce armed with relevant skills, a comprehensive social protection system, a professional public service, a capable state, a functional universal public health system, efficient infrastructure services, and the transition to a low-carbon economy.
The shared vision of change that underlies the NDP is aimed at the creation of a united, prosperous, and equitable society by 2030. Whereas the NPC acknowledges the legacy of apartheid, which has resulted in deep-rooted inequality, unrelenting poverty, and rising unemployment, these problems persist into the present, largely because of the abandonment of the NDP, deteriorating state capacity, and inappropriate policy management.
The abandonment of the NDP has resulted in incoherent planning. Nor has the state been able to fund, sequence, and coordinate the implementation of the NDP. These systemic challenges have been compounded by a combination of contextual challenges, such as the 2007/9 global financial crisis, the Covid-19 pandemic, the July 2021 uprising in South Africa, and shifting geopolitical dynamics.
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10-Year Review findings
Our 10-Year Review reveals that most of our economic targets have not only been missed but are moving in the wrong direction. Objectives and targets that have to do with inequality, poverty levels, employment and unemployment rates, energy security, a low-carbon economy, GDP, economic growth, and investment levels, have all been missed.
While there has been improvement in the social grant system and in terms of access to education, the quality and the relevance of the education and training received by our young people is of concern. The prevalence of childhood stunting is high and unchanged, mortality rates especially in the first months and the first five years of life are unacceptably high. Obesity and the attendant prevalence of diet-related non-communicable diseases are increasing. Most of the challenges affecting infants and children are linked to household hunger, the feminisation and racialisation of poverty among the mothers of the children.
The 10-Year Review reveals several governance challenges: instead of a capable state, on which the plan is predicated, we have an increasingly corrupt state; instead of a seamless planning system, we have a disjointed planning system that is poorly implemented and misaligned to the strategic goals of the NDP; instead of a more inclusive and equitable economy, we have economic policies that do not seem to be achieving the transformation that is required.
Social cohesion has fallen off the government priority list and is articulated superficially.
South Africans experience some of the highest levels of violent interpersonal crime globally, especially violence against women.
Hope for the future
The NPC is convinced that the light of hope that was lit when the NDP was first adopted and that the NDP itself remains more relevant than ever.
Our new story is open ended with temporary destinations,
only for new paths to open up once more.
It is a story of unfolding learning.
Even when we flounder, we remain hopeful.
In this story, we always arrive and depart.
Guided by the vision of change that informs the NDP, the NPC is convinced that for the goals of the NDP to be achieved, a comprehensive, coordinated, multi-sectoral approach to development is required. Such an approach must include partnerships between civil society, the private sector, government, and academia.
To rekindle the hope that is captured in the NDP and to correct our course toward the 2030 goals, we hereby reassert the significance of the goals of the NDP as the lodestar of our developmental vision as a nation. Such an approach should be rooted in good governance, economic transformation, social cohesion, a just transition to more sustainable development pathways as well as a bias in favour of the poorest of the poor.
Call to action
There are numerous initiatives across the country that clearly demonstrate that it is possible to rebuild in practical ways that make a difference in the lives of the poorest of the poor. Owing to their targeted, and partnership- and collaboration-based nature, some of these initiatives may usher in a type of governance that can reignite hope in an inclusive future precisely because they align with the NDP goals.
The example of four major programmes already underway
In this Call to Action, we highlight four such government initiatives already underway, namely:
- a national infrastructure implementation programme;
- a sectoral growth implementation programme;
- a just energy transition implementation programme;
- a national state capability-building programme.
These programmes have the potential to touch all South Africans. Implementing these programmes will result in a great leap forward in realising the goals of the NDP.
National infrastructure implementation programme
To realise the infrastructure goals of the NDP, the National Infrastructure Plan 2050 (NIP2050) was approved by Cabinet in 2022. The aim of the plan is to drive an infrastructure-led economic growth strategy. Four specific infrastructures are targeted by NIP2050: energy, water, digital infrastructure, and freight. The NPC’s Infrastructure Task Team has been mandated to investigate the long-term investment requirements to achieve the goals of NIP 2050.
We call upon government to use the NIP 2050 to stimulate economic growth through the acceleration of investments in the four infrastructure sectors. Such investments may include large-scale public and private funding and the prudent investment of pension funds.
Sectoral growth implementation programme
Since 2019, the Department of Trade, Industry and Competition (DTIC) with support from the Presidency has co-ordinated the co-development of sectoral masterplans for priority industries and strategic sectors. This targeted approach includes the building of social compacts with key stakeholders, as well as in-depth economic analyses to identify attendant strengths and challenges.
Of particular interest are masterplans designed to positively impact such crucial sectors as renewable energy, ICT/ digital, global business services, tourism, mining and beneficiation, agriculture, agro-processing, and the automotive sector.
We call on DPME to implement the monitoring and evaluation dashboard for all masterplans. The dashboard should be used to drive implementation, mobilise executive oversight committees and other stakeholders as well as incorporate masterplan priority outcomes into departmental medium-term goals and annual performance plans. We call upon municipalities to create their own dashboards for the implementation of their medium- and short-term planning. We call on all sectors, including business, NGOs and labour, to participate in the implementation of the masterplans.
Just Energy Transition implementation programme
In order to address rolling blackouts and energy insecurity, we have several plans in place. These include the Energy Action Plan, the South African Renewable Energy Masterplan, the Low Emissions Development Strategy, Eskom Roadmap and the Just Transition Framework, amongst others.
The ending of rolling blackouts in the short-term, and the gradual transition to energy security for all and net zero carbon emissions will help restore hope in the future of South Africa.
We call on everyone involved in this national effort to stay the course, no matter the challenges and uncertainties.
A national capability building programme
The National Framework Towards the Professionalisation of the Public Service, which was adopted by Cabinet in November 2022, provides guidelines for how a public service insulated from undue political interference can serve the country better.
To ensure that the Framework is institutionalised and implemented, we call upon government to adopt a national capability-building implementation programme aimed at:
- improving performance and accountability in strategic state institutions;
- building the capacity of municipalities for improved service delivery and better governance;
- developing the skills and expertise of employable young graduates and professionals;
- promoting co-operation and collaboration among state institutions and with private sector stakeholders; and
- mobilising turn-around interventions in strategic state institutions.
Making it happen
We call on the President to use his high office to advocate for the return of the NDP to the centre of all government planning. Among other things, the President should foreground the NDP in the framing of his main national addresses, including the Sona.
We call for a mode of governance that prioritises implementation and targeted problem-solving through the promotion and implementation of the NDP.
We call on Cabinet and all government departments to create a policy environment that prioritises the needs of the poorest of the poor.
In exercising its oversight role, we call on Parliament to refocus on the NDP when holding entities to account.
We call for a regulatory environment that enables large, small, micro, medium enterprises and co-operatives — formal and informal — to operate without undue impediments.
Furthermore, we call on the National Treasury, the South African Reserve Bank and other financial institutions to facilitate a robust and inclusive debate about the suitability and effectiveness of our current macro-economic and micro-economic policies with regard to the implementation of the NDP.
We call on local governments to focus on the core responsibilities of providing services, promoting social and economic development, creating a safe and healthy environment, and encouraging the involvement of communities, businesses, and civil society.
We call upon the NGO community to continue the good fight for social justice, human rights, and a healthy environment. We call upon NGOs to advocate for the rights of poor communities and the rights of the environment so as to animate and drive sustainable local economic development strategies.
We call on the business sector to be bold, less risk-averse, and innovative as they make their own contribution to good governance, manufacturing, climate change mitigation, and the overall national effort to implement the goals of the NDP goals.
While we appreciate the GBV Strategy that emanated from the Presidential Summit on Gender-Based Violence and Femicide, we call for the urgent implementation and adequate resourcing of this strategy.
These are some of the actions needed to correct our course toward the 2030 goals and to rekindle the hope of all South Africans. Former US president, Barack Obama aptly defines hope thus:
“Hope is not blind optimism. It’s not ignoring the enormity of the task ahead or the roadblocks that stand in our path. Hope is that thing inside us that insists, despite all evidence to the contrary, that something better awaits us if we have the courage to reach for it, and to work for it, and to fight for it. Hope is the belief that destiny will not be written for us, but by us, by the men and women who are not content to settle for the world as it is, who have the courage to remake the world as it should be.
We therefore call on all South Africans to play their part in the restoration of hope and in a more vigorous pursuit of the goals of the NDP over the second decade of the NDP up to 2030.
It is our future, let us make it work! DM
Professor Maluleke has written this article in his capacity as the Deputy Chairperson of the National Planning Commission.