The National Development Plan: An Emerging Progressive Consensus
Helen Zille, Leader of the Democratic Alliance
23 November 2011
The National Planning Commission’s National Development Plan (NDP) points to an emerging consensus at the non-racial, progressive centre of South African politics. The developing policy coherence on the fundamental issues facing South Africa is an exciting and significant development.
The NDP is rooted in the same analytical framework that underpins the DA’s own political philosophy – the ‘open, opportunity society for all’. It emphasises ideas such as:
- Growth and prosperity as the best way to fight poverty and unemployment
- Involving individuals and communities in their own development
- Requiring the state to extend opportunities to all through excellent education and other essential services
- Creating the right conditions for investment and job creation that drives a virtuous cycle of sustained development
- Moving from passive to active citizenry
- Developing people’s own capacity to pursue lives they value
And this is exactly why the NDP will struggle to get off the ground under the current ANC government. The ANC’s alliance partners and the populists in the Youth League will almost certainly block the implementation of the plan for reasons of ideology and self-interest.
And even if the essential elements of the plan survive the ANC’s internal warfare, they cannot be translated into action unless they are “landed” in government. Implementation of a plan is always the greatest challenge. For this plan to succeed, it must not only be accepted as a policy framework by government. Each element must be translated into an action plan, with clear targets and time frames, which are reflected in the line items of the annual budget; managed and measured by competent officials and committed politicians.
For the reasons identified in the “diagnostic” that led to this plan, its translation into action seems highly unlikely. This is a great pity.
The DA’s response to the ten core themes of the NDP can be summarised as follows:
- Creating jobs and opportunities: The DA agrees with the NPC that the best way to reduce poverty and inequality is to create jobs through economic growth. It is particularly encouraging that the NDP unequivocally supports the policy of a youth wage subsidy, but we feel that it should have been more explicit about the need for economic growth rates high enough to seriously dent our unemployment rate.
- Improving infrastructure: We agree that South Africa’s poor and crumbling infrastructure is a key factor holding back the economy. The specific infrastructure development proposals are, in general, all in line with DA priorities.
- Transitioning to a low-carbon economy: It is true that the resource-intensive nature of the South African economy is unsustainable. Proposals such as a carbon-budgeting approach have potential, but greater use of financial incentives is needed to make these environmental recommendations effective.
- Transforming urban and rural spaces: This is the weakest chapter in the NDP. People living in rural areas should indeed have access to greater opportunities, but the proposals here are generally vague and unrealistic. The DA supports the NDP recommendation regarding the liveability of cities, and on the need for improved public transport.
- Improving education and training: Providing learners and graduates with the skills they need to compete in the global knowledge economy is perhaps the single most effective weapon in the fight against poverty and unemployment. Here the NDP aligns very closely with DA thinking, and indeed many of its recommendations are already being implemented in the Western Cape.
- Providing quality healthcare: The DA agrees that good health is a prerequisite for an active, fulfilling and productive life. All South Africans deserve access to quality healthcare. We do, however, have misgivings about the feasibility of a National Health Insurance (NHI) system.
- Building a capable state: The NDP rightly points out that a capable state is an essential component of any development plan and it is refreshingly frank about the detrimental consequences of political interference in the public service. Many of the recommendations here are worthy of consideration, but proposals that affect the separate spheres of government should be approached with caution.
- Fighting corruption and enhancing accountability: The NDP’s position that political will is essential in the fight against corruption is spot-on. We support the recommendations that greater resources, and specialised state entities be directed towards the fight against corruption, but strongly disagree with the proposal to centralise large and long-term tenders.
- Building safer communities: Dramatically improving the effectiveness of our country’s criminal justice system and enhancing professionalism in the SAPS are, we agree, crucial elements in the fight against crime. The DA also supports the demilitarisation of the service, for which it has long campaigned. Recommendations regarding a ‘whole society’ approach to community safety are also supported and are being implemented in the Western Cape.
- Transforming society and uniting the nation: South Africa remains a divided society, scarred by our history of racial disenfranchisement, segregation and exploitation. We agree that policies such as BEE need to be reformed to make them more effective.
In sum, we agree with much of the philosophical and strategic thrust of the NDP. What is more, we are already implementing much of these policies in the Western Cape, the City of Cape Town and other DA-led administrations throughout the country.
Some examples include:
Improving the skills base
- The Western Cape Work and Skills Project runs a programme that provides opportunities to unemployed youth to engage in a 12-month work experience programme.
Improving teacher accountability and performance
- A range of Western Cape Education Department programmes track, evaluate, incentivise and improve the performance of school teachers and principals.
Reducing regulatory burdens
- The Western Cape ‘Red Tape to Red Carpet’ policy initiative identifies and removes unnecessary red tape in the province to boost enterprise development and expansion in the province.
Building community participation in community safety
- The Western Cape and City of Cape Town’s joint CeaseFire Project aims to stop gang violence and related violent crime through conflict mediation, street-level outreach, and changing overall community norms and behaviour.
Tackling the societal attitudes that contribute to corruption
- Our Ministerial Handbook dramatically cuts back on expenditure and perks for Western Cape MECs.
- The Business Interests of Employees Act in the Western Cape places significant restrictions on officials doing business with the provincial government.
Introducing a graduate recruitment programme in the public service
- The City of Cape Town has introduced 12-month paid internships for graduates in the city’s environmental, spatial planning, land use management and transport divisions
Providing reliable and affordable public transport
- The MyCiti Bus Expansion will see bus routes extended to the city’s Metro South East, which includes Khayelitsha and Mitchell’s Plain.
Moving jobs and development towards dense townships
- The City is facilitating the development of a green technology manufacturing cluster in Atlantis called the Atlantis Green Technology Cluster.
Ensuring affordable, widely available broadband
- The Cape Town Broadband Network aims to equip the city with a comprehensive municipal-owned optic fibre network.
There are also many points of agreement between the NDP and the DA’s own policy initiative, the 8% Growth Project. Both seek to achieve a ‘virtuous cycle’ of growth and development that focuses on expanding opportunities for all, creating an inclusive economy and improving state capacity.
However, there are also a number of important differences, including:
- Scope: The NDP is very broad-ranging. The 8% Growth Project, on the other hand, targets growth, jobs and halving poverty.
- Mandate: The NPC is an advisory body. It does not make government policy. The 8% Growth Project policy solutions will become DA policy where we govern.
- Focus: The NDP focuses on many socioeconomic challenges at once. The 8% Growth Project places rapid, and sustained, economic growth front and centre of economic policy.
- Political reality: Many NDP proposals will be stymied by elements within the ANC and its alliance partners. The DA faces no such ideological baggage.
We expect the NDP to be catalytic in the realignment of South African politics because, like the Secrecy Bill, it transcends traditional party lines.
Those who support the NDP are those who believe in expanding opportunities for all, so that people can use them to live lives they value. Those who resist it believe that a state should determine the distribution of opportunities and control their outcomes.
The DA is in the first category. Indeed, we are implementing many of these policies where we govern. And the NDP’s philosophical underpinnings are close to those of our own 8% Growth Project.
But there are many in the tripartite alliance and the ANC itself that fall into the second category; enough, we believe, to stop the NDP getting off the ground. They have an interest in maintaining the status quo and will fight to do so.
As debates over fundamental policy rage in the ANC, the DA will continue to build an open, opportunity society for all, in the places it governs. And we will continue fine-tuning our economic policy platform through our 8% growth project.
While the ANC is talking about delivering a better life for all, and arguing how to achieve it, the DA will be making it happen. As time goes on, more and more people will see – through the DA’s performance in government – that the ideas underpinning the NPC can bring about a prosperous future for all.
Note: A copy of the full response to the NPC's National Development Plan can be downloaded here.