Why the National Development Plan benefits South Africa's working class

Union leaders’ attacks on the NDP appear to ignore its positive recommendations, such as those related to tackling corruption.

Certain union leaders and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu), a tripartite alliance partner, have attacked tenets of the National Development Plan (NDP), which was adopted by South Africa’s cabinet in 2012. Some have gone as far as suggesting that it should be completely scrapped. This despite the fact that the NDP arguably provides a clear and pragmatic roadmap for addressing South Africa’s pressing problems such as poverty, unemployment and inequality. Scrapping the NDP may be a case of ‘throwing the baby out with the bathwater’, considering the absence of solid alternative suggestions from the plan’s critics in the labour unions on addressing challenges such as corruption.

Following President Jacob Zuma’s 2013 State of the Nation Address, during which he profiled the NDP, Cosatu national spokesperson Patrick Craven raised concerns about contradictory objectives. For instance, Cosatu states that the proposed target of 11 million jobs by the year 2030 relies on low quality, unsustainable jobs based on exports and the services sector. It argues that these jobs will not provide a living wage and therefore cannot possibly lift people out of poverty. Cosatu says that it is contradictory to suggest that the NDP will tackle inequality when it only seeks to lower the Gini coefficient – a measurement of income inequality – from 0,69 (69%) to 0,6 (60%) by 2030. This, it argues, would still leave South Africa one of the world’s most unequal societies. Cosatu notes that the Gini coefficient of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, which consists of 34 of the most advanced and fastest growing economies in the world, is between 0,25 and 0,3 and that these countries are still highly unequal.

Irvin Jim of the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa), a Cosatu affiliate, castigated the plan as a ‘right-wing’ deviation from the Freedom Charter that continued to protect and perpetuate the ‘historic and vested interests of white monopoly and imperialist capital’ to the disadvantage of the working class and the majority of South Africans. Numsa argues that in its diagnostic report the National Planning Commission (NPC) only identifies the symptoms of South Africa’s challenges and fails to locate their underlying causes, namely apartheid and the colonial character of the economy.

Fikile Majola, the secretary general of another Cosatu affiliate, the National Education, Health and Allied Workers Union (Nehawu), concurred and attacked Minister Trevor Manuel, Minister in the Presidency in charge of the NPC, for behaving like ‘a free agent that is unaccountable to the ANC’. He added that that the adoption of the NDP by the ANC did not mean that the commission was a ‘super ministry’ in the Presidency. His stated concern is that the plan does not envision a sufficiently radical programme of economic transformation to undo the damage caused by apartheid.

These unions’ disagreement with the NDP centres primarily on the highly contested terrain of economic policy. Further, as some analysts have pointed out, such disagreements about the NDP may be employed as a proxy in the ‘battle’ between warring factions of the fractured post-Mangaung ANC. Indeed, union leaders who have joined the ANC’s National Executive Committee, like Cosatu president Sdumo Dlamini, are unable to speak out publicly on their possible disagreement with economic policy.

Of course, union leaders who have reservations about the NDP should not stop at criticising the plan. Robust debate, exchange of ideas and critique are some of the crucial components of a constitutional democracy such as South Africa’s. However, the entire plan should not be set aside because of disagreements about its approach to economics.

The NDP deals with a number of pressing challenges, including those facing education, health, housing, policing and rural development, to name a few. If these recommendations are implemented, the country will be able to reduce poverty and improve the quality of life of all its citizens. For example, recognising that the country faces considerable challenges in terms of stemming the tide of corruption, the NDP recommends a range of actions to plug the state’s haemorrhaging coffers.

A recent report by Peter Allwright, of the law firm Edward Nathan Sonnenbergs,noted that in the 2011–2012 period fraud, extortion and other forms of malfeasance cost taxpayers close to R1 billion. The report, based on Public Service Commission figures and parliamentary committee reports, stated that there was gross underreporting of the amount of money missing from government’s coffers. It added that although 88% of those tried for financial misconduct were found guilty, only 19% were dismissed and the rest remained in the public sector. This works directly against the interests of the poor and working classes, who do not receive adequate public services as a result. In the private sector, when company executives siphon off profits and funds for personal use this has severe negative repercussions and may lead to the companies’ eventual collapse or downscaling, resulting in heavy job losses. For South Africa this could be catastrophic, particularly at a time when the economy has been sluggish and the unemployment rate is at a high of 25,2%, according to the latest Statistics South Africa figures.

There are a number of practical recommendations in the NDP on addressing corruption. For example, the NDP suggests the establishment of specialist courts to deal with corruption and fraud, given the low number of convictions for this crime. It also calls for the strengthening of whistle-blower legislation to support an environment that encourages those with vital information on corrupt practices to bring it to the attention of the relevant authorities. A legal and social environment that protects individuals who report corruption sends a clear signal that whistle-blowers do not have to fear reprisals.

Recognising the massive conflict of interest and corruption in the public sector, the NDP also recommends making it illegal for civil servants to conduct business with the state. Further, the plan proposes that large tenders should be awarded by a central agency to ensure transparency and accountability. It further recommends that political and legal steps should be taken to prevent political interference in corruption investigations.

It is therefore worrying that the whole plan is being attacked over disagreements on the suggested approach on growing the economy. Perhaps this wholesale rejection of the NDP is the result of growing dissatisfaction among many in Cosatu with the ruling faction that won at Mangaung. However, the NDP does provide many useful recommendations and these need to be debated on their merits across different sectors if South Africa is to move forward in addressing its most pressing challenges.

Hamadziripi Tamukamoyo, Researcher, Mpho Mtshali and Reitumetse Mofana, Interns, Governance, Crime and Justice Division, ISS Pretoria

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