Ismail Lagardien: NDP in our rear-view mirror

Over the past weekend the sixth anniversary of the day when the initial (working) draft of the National Development Plan (NDP) was handed to the Presidency passed quietly.

Whereas the plan, like the constitution, provided a blueprint for our future, it now seems to be growing smaller and smaller in our rear-view mirror.

More people, it seems, remembered November 11 for the day, 99 years ago, when World War 1 ended, at least on paper.

Some of us, I count myself among these, believe World War 1 ended in 1945, surely a subject for another time and place.

Nonetheless, on November 11 2011, the initial working draft of the NDP was handed to the Presidency.

Almost a year later, on August 15 2012, the first full draft of the NDP was presented to the country in a joint sitting of parliament.

Based on representation in parliament, the plan was accepted by 90% of South Africans.

It would be remiss not to remind ourselves that the presentation in parliament coincided with those dark and tragic days at Marikana . . .

Our politics have changed since the NDP was presented to the country.

The cyanotoxic ideas of the EFF had not yet risen to the top of our political gumbo.

Things like “state capture” were, for the most part, still shrouded in what looked, then, like increasingly gaudy and gauche robes of economic empowerment and opportunity shaped by greed, avarice and, well, apostasy.

We had yet to uncover the full extent of the grotesqueries of our time.

More dangerously, since 2012, elements of post-modernist thinking have more aggressively and unapologetically cluttered our politics with wilful obscurantism and zealous moral relativity, all of which, I would venture, have failed to reconcile the varying rights and wrongs of our economic ills.

Some post-modernists shifted our discussions away from classical patterns of capital accumulation, exploitation and abuse of dominance.

I come out on the side of the belief that post-modernist politics represent the disappointment of the revolutionary generation of 1968 – perhaps in South Africa, those folk who were active in the 1980s and those who claim to have been activists – and the incorporation of some of its members into the professional and managerial structures of current institutions. They’re a sad but dangerous bunch. They are the ones who “do” things like “transformation” the way that Bono “does” poverty.

They have become a little more than the mimic women and men who slipped into colonial structures, and now are more concerned with shoring up their own positions than they are with justice. What then of the NDP? Well, nobody who worked on the plan (I should mention that I was one of them) imagined it perfect.

Its shortcomings notwithstanding, the NDP was the most comprehensive, deliberative and most coherent blueprint for a more prosperous and stable future for South Africa.

None of the people who worked in the National Planning Commission (NPC) at the time even vaguely presumed that it was complete.

The NDP covered general and specific recommendations and proposals to rejuvenate and invest in the economy, in infrastructure, energy, transport, health, education – including early childhood development – and community safety.

It included proposals on professionalisation of the state, integration into the regional and global political economy, with specific references to regional common pool resources, the movement of people, transnational environmental risks and sustainability of water supply, among others.

No other political party has, as far as I know, tabled a more comprehensive plan.

Some may suggest that these are implicit in their policies. Those contentions ought to be tested. As far as I remember, the main direct opposition to the plan was from the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa because the NDP did not include mass nationalisation and the creation of a dictatorship of the proletariat.

It is safe to assume that the EFF is opposed to the NDP, mainly because the plan does not make room for rapine, revenge and almost pre-pubescent name-calling, or disruption for its own sake.

Nostalgics, notably the humourless marxists, who would believe that we are stuck in a world of dark satanic mills, probably still oppose the plan because it is rooted in political economic compromise, and because it approaches South Africa’s problems on the basis of real conditions that exist.

This means that romantic idealism has crept into bed with political realism, and seeks comfort in the certainty of the status quo and eternal validity of their own ideas.

It is hard to change, when change strips one of ideological moorings. What next, then, for the NDP? First, one should give deference to the people on the NPC.

They work under impossibly murky conditions.

Second, the next president of South Africa will have to be someone who has a granular and sophisticated understanding of the global political economy, and find a way to restore the prime focus of the NDP. This has to start with bringing the NDP back to the foreground of public policy-making.

The gaps in the plan need to be filled, and the next president of South Africa may want to strengthen public information and persuasion.

None of us who worked on the NDP believed it was perfect, we simply presented it as the best plan for our times.

Leave a Reply