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National Development Plan — the greatest achievement so far of democratic South Africa

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Prof Tinyiko Maluleke is the vice-chancellor and principal of the Tshwane University of Technology.

We have every reason to boast about one of South Africa’s greatest achievements since democracy – an achievement that makes the country ‘roadworthy’ for the developmental trajectory it has set for itself.

In less than 30 days, on 29 May 2024, South Africa will hold its 7th national elections since democracy. Exactly 30 years ago to the month, and almost to the day, South Africa held its first democratic elections. 

Thirty years ago, there was no voters’ roll to write home about; no constitution except for an interim one; no electoral commission except for the one that was hurriedly put together late in 1993; and no country, really – certainly no country that all South Africans could call home. 

The acquired taste of being South African

In his book The Education of a British-Protected Child, the late Chinua Achebe once quipped that Nigerian nationality was for him an acquired taste. Similarly, being a South African is a “taste” many of us “acquired” over the past 30 years. That alone is testimony of how far we have come, as a country.

In his memoir titled My Own Liberator, former Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke recalls how Madiba tracked him down and hounded him out of his Mpumalanga vacation in December 1993. God knows Moseneke deserved the break after spending six frantic months – June to December 1993 – working with the technical committee that wrote the interim Constitution. Madiba prevailed upon him to return and become deputy to Judge Johann Kriegler at the helm of the first Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) of the soon-to-be democratic South Africa. 

If, in 1994, we had only a ragtag voters’ roll, an interim constitution, an imperfect IEC and a disparate nation, we made up for all these shortcomings by the ferocity of our hunger for freedom and our dogged determination to build a better country that would be home for all of us.

Thirty years later, our country boasts a tried and tested IEC which is a “veteran” of two sets of six municipal elections and six national elections – an IEC that is the envy of the world and the African continent.

South Africans cannot wait to return to the polls for the seventh time, in pursuit of a dream of a stronger democracy, a more just economy and a more cohesive society. 

The National Planning Commission (NPC) has already begun to cobble together a briefing for the looming seventh administration. Such a briefing will bring the new administration up to speed not only with the work of the NPC, but also with the imperative of long-term planning, thus ensuring such planning continues to define the developmental trajectory of the country. 

NDP – The greatest achievement in 30 years

We have every reason to boast about one of South Africa’s greatest achievements since democracy – an achievement that makes the country “roadworthy” for the developmental trajectory it has set for itself. I am referring here to the country’s only cross-cutting long-term plan – the National Development Plan. 

In 1994 we were hungry for freedom, alright. We were determined to build a country where, as Madiba said in his inauguration speech, there would be “work, bread, water and salt for all”. 

In 1994, we had lots of hope, lots of passion and lots of dreams. What we did not have was a plan. 

We certainly did not have a meticulous, coherent long-term plan with clear goals and measurable targets. 

Perhaps the closest to a long-term plan then, was the ANC and its alliance partners’ Reconstruction and Development Plan – which was later watered down and then abandoned altogether. 

The reality is that in the past 30 years, there has been nothing as thoroughgoing, nothing as far reaching in breadth, and nothing as detailed as the NDP. 

The current NPC has been correct to recognise, as key to its mandate, the responsibility to constantly agitate for the NDP never to be ignored, trivialised, balkanised or set aside. 

The NPC will continue to tease out the lessons to be learnt from its 10-year review, especially the call to action that was released in tandem with our review. Both these documents argue strongly that all of society must play a role in implementing the NDP if its vision 2030 is to be realised.

Few things have been as potentially catalytic for a democracy such as ours, as the crafting of a national long-term plan and the deliberate location of such a plan above the vagaries and the volatile moods of party politics, and above the vicissitudes of unpredictable elections and the tendency of government administrations to be obsessed with short-term vanity projects. 

In the developmental trajectory of a country such as ours, few long-term interventions are as pivotal as the meticulous mapping and constant and consistent deployment of a long-term national development plan, including the articulation of the same plan across geographical spaces, across all spheres of government, across the populace, throughout the period that has been set out. 

No effort should be spared in ensuring that there is coherence between the long-term and the short-term, between local plans, masterplans and the national plan, conjuring up a constant cross-pollination of ideas and a synchrony of actions, tactics and strategies, so as to produce the best-case scenario. 

It must always be remembered that the 2035 Indlulamithi Scenarios – the Hadeda, the Vulture Culture and the Weaver Work – are neither some immutable fate nor a destiny set for us by the gods. They are an illustration of the desirable and undesirable possibilities that are available to us depending on the choices we make or do not make. 

In calling the NDP the greatest achievement of democratic South Africa, we are not suggesting that the NDP is either the only great achievement of the country over the past 30-year period, or that the NDP is flawless. But we are saying that the only thing worse than not implementing a long-term national plan is not to have one. 

And yet, we remain convinced that one of the most telling differences between countries is the quality of their long-term plans and the determination and consistency with which they implement such plans. 

What makes the NDP a great milestone is its role as a catalyst for the emergence of many other developmental milestones.

At its recent lekgotla, the NPC committed itself, beginning now, to craft the framework for the long-term plan beyond 2030. Linked to this is a sense that, not being an implementing body, the real power of the NPC is its convening power as well as its power to impact and to influence. 

Therefore, the NPC has been increasingly deliberate and conscious of its responsibility to influence decision-makers and impact society as a whole. To this end, the NPC will continue to structure and to sequence its advisories to government for maximum impact and the greatest influence. 

Equally important is the finalisation of the draft National Planning Framework Bill, which will elevate the founding article of the NPC from a Green Paper to an Act of Parliament. Until this Bill is passed, the NPC will not have the wherewithal to make the requisite impact and to exercise the necessary influence.

From Boom Shaka to Tyla – 30 years later

Earlier, I listed some of the things we did not have in 1994. But I may have neglected to acknowledge some of the things we did have 30 years ago. We had the kwaito music group called Boom Shaka, who, in 1994, released their hit song titled “It’s about time”. 

Thirty years later, it may not be about time we listened to Boom Shaka, but it is indeed about time that South Africa went back to the NDP. 

It is about time the NPC sharpened our tools of impact and influence – using our convening power, leveraging our advisory notes to government and society, utilising our expertise to begin the crucial process of crafting a long-term plan beyond 2030. 

If the youth of 1994 had Boom Shaka and kwaito, the youth of 2024 have Amapiano and Tyla Laura Seethal – simply known as Tyla, winner of a Grammy for Best African Music Performance. 

The youth of 2024 also have the inspiration of Tintswalo – President Ramaphosa’s metaphorical child of South African democracy. 

The question is, will the 12 million (out of 27 million) registered voters who are below the age of 40 – some of whom are in their early 20s, like Tyla – show confidence in our democracy by turning out to vote in big numbers on 29 May 2024, or will they pour water on it and deftly dance away from the voting stations? DM

This is an abridged and edited version of the speech Prof Maluleke delivered at the NPC’s plenary meeting on 30 April, 2024. The NPC is appointed by the President to advise the country on implementing the NDP vision 2030.

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Ron McGregor says:

    I realise that it is important to present a diverse range of views. But this nonsense! C’mon.

  • Michael Bowes says:

    It might better have been called The National Development Vision…….Plans need to have a little more substance and ‘how we’re going to do it’. As such it became nothing more than a Wish List. But government since those days has no vision beyond the “Me first at The National Feeding Trough”.

  • Irene Baumbach says:

    A plan remains an intellectual exercise unless it is financed and successfully implemented. It seems current thinking is the plan is to make a plan.

  • Trenton Carr says:

    Is this some kind of evil joke?
    Does this person have any powers of observation or perception they might want to engage and just have a look around, and can someone please go over there and pop the opaque bubble they find themselves trapped in? If this is the quality of academics we have created we are doomed.

  • Middle aged Mike says:

    “This is an abridged and edited version of the speech Prof Maluleke delivered”

    That’s a small mercy for which I am very grateful.

  • Michael Coleman says:

    Not one item of NDP content, nor one example of anything implemented. Dreamworld! If this is S Africa’s greatest ahievement in 30 years it epitomises how little has been achieved.

  • Jacques Wessels says:

    Jip true but like all plans, read the plan, comment & get involved in local apolitical structures like rate payers, neighborhood watches etc by just lamenting the state of affairs is simply condoning the same

  • Carl Nielsen says:

    TL;DR. Enough said

  • Thug Nificent says:

    Another ANC loyalist! How much are they paying you man to spew such garbage, we are suffering here and you tellbus anout plans, get outta here!

  • Roger Sheppard says:

    I can’t believe a professor wrote this! …I would li….er….speechless!

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