Thumbs up for NDP

The much-vaunted National Development Plan (NDP) received the go-ahead at the ANC’s 53rd national elective conference in Mangaung when the more than 4 500 delegates adopted it as a resolution of the conference. This means the NDP has finally got the thumbs up as the roadmap for South Africa until 2030.

Not that we’ve had a shortage of plans, strategies and programmes since the advent of democracy in 1994. The most well-known economic programmes were the Reconstruction and Development Plan (RDP) under former president Nelson Mandela, followed by former president Thabo Mbeki’s Growth, Employment and Redistribution (GEAR) programme.

But there’s one big difference with the National Development Plan in that it is not something devised by government, but as a result of input from different sectors of society, role players and different stakeholders. The plan was drafted by the national planning commission headed by Trevor Manuel, minister in the presidency responsible for planning with Cyril Ramaphosa, recently elected deputy president of the ANC as deputy chair.

“Neither the RDP nor GEAR could be classified as widely consulted plan,” political analyst Ebrahim Fakir says. “They were purely government-developed and didn’t really have much buy-in from society.” What distinguishes these two plans from the national development plan is that it is inclusive and the public has had wide opportunity to participate, he adds.


The programme’s main aim was to address the huge socio-economic problems as a result of the apartheid regime. It specifically focused on alleviating poverty, addressing the shortfalls in social services across the country and reducing the fiscal shortfall and government expenditure. But the RDP under the watch of former minister Jay Naidoo lacked direction and structure, failed to deliver and collapsed.

“The RDP was way too ambitious,” political analyst at the University of the Witwatersrand Susan Booysen says, “as the architects of the plan didn’t take budget limitations into account.” According to her, Mandela also made various compromises even before the first democratic election in 1994, which were very “un-RDP” and which made it difficult to implement the programme. “That laid the table for Mbeki’s GEAR,” she says.


GEAR was regarded as an investor and business friendly programme intended to attract foreign capital to drive economic development in the country, as well as on privatisation and the removal of exchange controls. But the leftists groups in the ANC, most notably Cosatu and the SACP were by and large marginalised from the drafting of the policy and it was labelled “the 1996 class project” because of its focus on, what SACP leader Blade Nzimande called, “capitalist profitability” instead of addressing the immense developmental challenges in South Africa.

The National Development Plan

In 2010, President Jacob Zuma established the national planning commission. Besides heavy-weights, such as Manuel and Ramaphosa, the commission boasted some of the top thinkers in South African society, including Bobby Godsell, chairperson of Business Leadership South Africa and former ANC national executive member and policy head Joel Netshitenze. After two years of deliberations and public consultations, Manuel finally handed the plan to Zuma in August this year. It has since been approved by cabinet and the ANC’s national executive council (NEC) – the party’s highest decision-making body.

“It’s important to understand that this is the first plan for the country,” Manuel says, “but the important part is now ensuring that we complete its implementation. It’s not a government plan, it’s a plan for the nation and it’s fundamentally important that we involve communities in decisions and oversight.”

According to Manuel, the more than 4 000 delegates at the ANC’s 53rd national elective conference in Mangaung, received the national development plan “exceedingly” well. He is also confident that Ramaphosa’s election to the position of deputy president of the ANC will be a further boost for the plan. “Cyril adds a strong resonant voice to the plan,” he said. “In spite of all his other responsibilities he has in the past of the Planning Commission made an immense amount of time available and I hope he’ll continue doing that.”

President Jacob Zuma, as well as the ANC’s commission on economic transformation, publicly endorsed the national development at this week’s Mangaung conference. In his opening speech at the conference Zuma called it “a major achievement of the fourth (Zuma’s) administration” – a “ground-breaking” and “comprehensive” plan which will solve South Africa’s poverty, inequality and unemployment and help to establish infrastructure, education and skills development, small business development, education and the national health insurance.

The plan was also met with approval from the business sector. “It’s brilliant,” investment banker Adil Nchabeleng, says. “We need jobs and the national development plan can achieve that.”

Alan Fine, Public Affairs Manager at AngloGold Ashanti, said what’s remarkable is that the plan “synthesizes a range of views” and it contains diverse ideologies which are good for the country. It focuses on every critical issue. You just have to look at the composition of experts on the National Planning Commission – it’s the country’s top thinkers who served on it.”

Obstacles in the way

As with all plans, policies and strategies there is also a downside to the NDP. “The National Development Plan doesn’t have any institutional base in government,” Fakir says. “There’s no single ministry, or department or anyone who is responsible for it, so that is its first weakness – a lack of institutional base. And a lack of institutional base is not necessarily a lack of focus, but a lack of implementation.”

Some critics also fear that it will remain just a plan and not get implemented, just as so many other previous ones.

But there is hope. “I would sum the plan as follows: everyone simply needs to do his or her job and the plan can be realised,” Fakir says.

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