The National Development Plan is no lodestar - Daily Maverick

Jun 11, 2019
11 June 2019 - Whether the NDP was ever seriously regarded as a workable blueprint for the country is a matter of debate. Cynics might argue that it had about it the odour of one of the “papers” and “strategies” that have proliferated since the 1990s. Perhaps more importantly, it never found unanimous favour within the ANC and its allies.

Terence Corrigan

The National Development Plan is back. Or it never left. But it’s the operative policy anyway. This is according to President Cyril Ramaphosa in comments made at the recent ANC National Executive Committee meeting.

“The NDP (National Development Plan) is our lodestar,” President Cyril Ramaphosa proclaimed at the recent ANC National Executive Committee meeting. “This is not the moment to redraft policy. This is the moment to implement.”

For those who might have forgotten, the NDP was released back in 2012 to much fanfare and applause. While we at the Institute of Race Relations had severe reservations, it was welcomed by business and many sensible, middle-of-the-road types who viewed it as an attempt at pragmatic and market-friendly development. Even the Democratic Alliance had some positive things to say about it. (As one of its representatives remarked to me at the time: “Now THIS is a plan!”)

The same people will no doubt greet Cyril Ramaphosa’s invocation of the NDP with relief. After the past few weeks in which such figures as ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule has pronounced on the imperatives of shifting the revolution into high gear – with all the inevitable damage that that would imply – it might even be seen as the President finally setting his authority on the country’s direction. The first rays of the Long Game that would usher in the New Dawn, or something along those lines.

I’m not so sure.

Whether the NDP was ever seriously regarded as a workable blueprint for the country is a matter of debate. Cynics might argue that it had about it the odour of one of the “papers” and “strategies” that have proliferated since the 1990s. Perhaps more importantly, it never found unanimous favour within the ANC and its allies.

Hence, it has never been treated as sacrosanct, certainly not by the president. Last year, for example, he described it as “a living document, not a static document”. The economic chapter – arguably the keystone (dare we say lodestar?) of the document – was rejected by the ANC’s influential union allies. President Ramaphosa’s response was to invite dissenters “to join the process of looking at the chapter of the NDP to see how it can be improved”.

Scope for redrafting policy evidently does exist. Not least when the unity of the fractious ruling coalition is at stake. After all, alongside his affirmation of the continuing centrality of the NDP, President Ramaphosa writes that “unity is paramount”. He should probably be taken at his word on this.

Even more revealing has been the endless, destabilising “debate” over expropriation without compensation. Intended at face value to expedite land reform, it is difficult to square with the NDP. In discussing agriculture and rural development, the NDP, whatever its faults (and its recommendations might well be critiqued) noted the importance of this industry and of maintaining current production, while encouraging and supporting new entrants. It acknowledged the concerns of the farming community, presenting it as an asset and partner. It furthermore understood that successful land reform would involve more than mere land transfers. It would require an extensive network of enabling factors – infrastructural, financial, technological and intellectual – that would make for successful farming.

Perhaps most importantly, it was clear on the importance of secure tenure: “To realise opportunities, security of tenure is required. Investment by farmers will occur if they believe income streams are secure.” It went on to point to the need to provide such security to the beneficiaries of land reform and to those living in communal areas.

Expropriation without compensation seems calculated to work against all of this. True, there have been rhetorical assurances about how it will be undertaken so as not to undermine food security or economic growth. It has already done the latter and could well move on to damaging the former.

It has also, if anything, distorted the debate about what successful land reform would look like. For example, by focusing on the proportions of the country’s surface area owned by different racial groups (an exercise which frequently misrepresents the available information), it has all but lost sight of all those issues that need to be addressed in land reform – at least in its agrarian expression – if it is to benefit the country.

Indeed, not enough has been said about the need for tenure security. Nothing has been done to alter current policy in terms of which redistributed land is retained as state property – with its nominal beneficiaries sometimes not even receiving leases. Little has been said or done about the lack of security suffered by people on communal land – except perhaps for promises that the rights and powers of traditional leaders will not be abridged.

Some pronouncements from high-ranking politicians and officials suggest that the expropriation without compensation agenda could represent a move, rapid or incremental, to bring all land into the hands of the state.

The NDP is sparsely evident in all this, if it is there at all. In his address, Ramaphosa said that for South Africa to succeed in its objectives – his specific concern at that point being to address unemployment – it would need to a “massive investment drive”. This, he went on, required a conducive business environment, reduced costs of business operations, policy consistency and so on. We’ve heard this all before. The NDP laid it out. Yet the actions over the past 18 months suggest that this message has been ignored. 

Terence Corrigan is a project manager at the Institute of Race Relations.

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