Final push towards the NDP 2023 Finish line – a vital call for action

Article fist published on Daily Maverick
by Prof Tinyiko Maluleke, VC and Principal as well as Deputy Chairperson of the National Planning Commission

6 October 2023

Together with its recent 10-year review of the implementation of the NDP, the National Planning Commission has published a Call to Action. The inclusion of the Call to Action is intended, in part, to answer the ‘so what’ question that must inevitably spring to consciousness in light of the review findings. The review findings are both a wake-up call and an opportunity for a rejuvenation of our efforts as we move steadily towards the 2030 horizon of the NDP. 

Prof Tinyiko Maluleke, Vice-Chancellor and Principal.

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.

‘Too ambitious’
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. 

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”. 

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