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  • Chronicle of a developmental transformation foretold: South Africa's National Development Plan in hindsight1
  • Ben Fine (bio)

[Financial] Man is the only creature that consumes without producing. He does not give milk, he does not lay eggs, he is too weak to pull the plough, he cannot run fast enough to catch rabbits. Yet he is lord of all the animals. He sets them to work, he gives back to them the bare minimum that will prevent them from starving, and the rest he keeps for himself.

(George Orwell, 1945, Animal Farm, chapter 1)

Looking back from 2030, South Africa can congratulate itself on its record of success in both relative and absolute terms since the turning point in its economic performance was brought about soon after the beginning of the second decade of the new millennium. In brief, select highlights include:

  • • the creation of eleven million new jobs bringing unemployment down, even for an expanded population, to no more than 6%;

  • • the elimination of poverty across the majority of the population;

  • • the reduction of the Gini coefficient for income from an outrageous 0.7 to an, admittedly, far from acceptable level of 0.6;

  • • a notable reduction in corruption and corresponding increase in government capacity and efficacy;

  • • a national health service provided through the public sector free at the point of delivery with a focus on primary and preventative care;

  • • a major expansion in provision of basic needs such as housing, water, electrification, education and other elements of social and economic infrastructure; [End Page 115]

  • • and considerable progress in shift towards a green economy with adoption of new renewable technologies.

But the single most important change that allowed for and, to a large extent, prompted such changes has been the steep increase in the level of investment in the South African economy from around 16 per cent or so of GDP at the cusp of change some 20 years ago to 30 per cent onwards from a few years later, restoring the level that had proved possible even as apartheid was unravelling in the early 1980s.

What is it that brought about this remarkable turnaround in economic performance, one that has now proved so secure and has so stood the test of time for nearly 20 years that we take it for granted and condemn equally both apartheid and the first 20 years of the post-apartheid period to the dismal past, as history? Significantly, the youth of today, for example, have only experienced increasingly better conditions over their lifetimes.

At the risk of exaggeration, we can pinpoint one policy document that was more responsible for this change in performance than any other. Whilst it may have long since been forgotten, The National Development Plan: vision for 2030, NDP, issued in late 2011 by the National Planning Commission, can be seen to have played a, if not the, major role in triggering the changes and policies that have brought developmental success to South Africa. Indeed, it is astonishing how its goals have in major respects matched the outcomes listed above!

Yet, the role played by the NDP, and its descent into oblivion over the period during which its goals were realised, rests on two crucial factors. First is the extent to which, over the next two decades, developments in practice observed its prognostications in the breach. And second, in the more immediate term, is that the NDP proved, after a long and accelerating brandishing of policy stances and documents, the posturing straw that broke the camel's back of the people's suspension of disbelief. The NDP, deriving from the National Planning Commission, followed more or less immediately upon, the New Growth Path, NGP, emanating from the 'rival' Economic Development Department.2 The creation of these two initiatives under the Zuma government was as much a source of duplication and confusion as of political compromise and institutionalised inertia. Paradoxically, the NDP could in some respects be more progressive in word and aspiration for being less attached to policy in practice and more visionary into the future than the NGP, claiming as an instance of mine is [End Page 116] bigger than yours that it would create 11 million...


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pp. 115-132
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