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The dark side of the NDP

Thursday, July 18th, 2013

The National Development Plan (NDP) is, at present, perhaps South Africa’s most quoted and most widely supported government document. It has elicited votes of confidence from across a broad spectrum of groupings, including organised business, agriculture, political parties and public figures. However, close scrutiny of what is concealed within the NDP’s 500 pages reveals several reasons to doubt the prudence of such support.

Until recently, the only significant public opposition to the NDP has come from organisations which are closely aligned to the African National Congress, such as Cosatu-affiliated trade unions and, to a lesser extent, the South African Communist Party. According to Irvin Jim, Secretary-General of the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa, ‘the NDP is very dangerous because it wants to roll back the role of the state in the economy.’

If anything, such opposition has served to strengthen the resolve of NDP supporters not aligned to the ANC to support the urgent implementation of the NDP.

Then, in early July, the South African Institute of Race Relations (SAIRR) published its analysis of the NDP, becoming the first well-known non-ANC aligned organisation to publicly reject the NDP. Calling it a ‘blank cheque for more taxation’, Mr John Kane-Berman, CEO of the institute, said: ‘The NDP has an equivocal approach to deregulation, a niggardly attitude to privatisation, and is inclined to blame some of the state’s own failings on “market failure”. As far as encouraging a thriving private sector is concerned, the NDP’s proposals amount to a damp squib.’

The SAIRR’s assessment largely corresponds with that of the Solidarity Research Institute (SRI). Contrary to what Mr Jim says, the NDP is not about rolling back the state, but about rolling it out – it just so happens that the roll-out doesn’t take the precise form Mr Jim prefers.

In a presentation to Solidarity’s staff in March, the SRI cautioned against unqualified support for the NDP, warning that, aside from specific points of merit, it is self-contradictory, heavily race-based, deeply interventionist and largely unworkable. It contains proposals and statements ranging from the somewhat meritorious through to the meaningless but more often, to the downright intrusive and harmful.

Instead of supporting the NDP in general, it is more prudent to maintain reservations and, where at all deemed sensible, to only give qualified support to selected proposals in the NDP.

Four aspects about the NDP’s darker side are dealt with below:

1.  Why the ANC supports the NDP

Officially the ANC supports the NDP, among other things, to further the National Democratic Revolution (NDR). The NDR is the ANC’s broad strategic orientation to gain control over all centres of power in South Africa, redistribute wealth and income and implement its idea of racial transformation. When the ANC adopted the NDP at its 53rd National Conference in Mangaung in December 2012, it resolved, inter alia, the following:

[We have] considered the National Development Plan, agreed that it forms an important basis for the development of a long term plan to build a national democratic society that is non-racial, non-sexist, democratic, united and prosperous and seeks to advance the National Democratic Revolution (NDR).

That the ANC could at Mangaung accept the NDP as furthering the NDR should sound a note of caution. Of course, it is probably so that the NDP does in fact run contrary to the NDR as far as some of its proposals are concerned without the ANC realising it, as those from Cosatu quarters who are opposing the NDP have held. Even so, it has to be borne in mind that the implementation of the NDP is dependent on an interpretation through the lenses of ANC government appointees. The NDP is unfortunately more likely to be interpreted in terms of the NDR than the other way around.

2.  The NDP and the judiciary

While the NDP naturally calls for a ‘reliable, honest, efficient court system’, it also calls for its transformation. It does so, furthermore, in a way that makes it unclear what exactly this transformation might entail. In light of recent statements by Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng on the very subject of judicial transformation – about which several legal scholars and commentators have raised deep concern – it seems fitting to consider the spectrum of visions for the judiciary that may very well be acceptable under the NDP.

While the Chief Justice’s tone is different from the tone adopted in the NDP’s passages on the subject, it isn’t clear that he speaks in conflict with the substance of the proposals for a transformed judiciary in the NDP. It has already been pointed out that any implementation of NDP proposals is in any case likely to be considered through NDR-compatible lenses.

During a lecture entitled “Duty to transform”, delivered to the Advocates for Transformation on 6 July 2013, Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng said the following (emphasis added in bold type):

  • ‘And when [the victims of apartheid] do remember [their suffering], the question they are bound to ask themselves is, “has the apartheid system really been dismantled, or has it only changed marginally or has a grouping of its key operators metamorphosed into a movement that masquerades as agents for the enforcement of constitutional compliance when they are in fact a change resistance force?”‘
  • ‘Instructions and brief allocation with particular regard to race and gender must be seriously reconsidered.’
  • ‘Based on the instructions-giving and briefing patterns before the Constitutional Court, it appears thatSouth Africans are yet to appreciate their duty to help transform the profession and by extension the Judiciary.’
  • ‘I have come to challenge you and other genuinely progressive bodies to resist all efforts geared at the protection of white male dominance in the professions and the Bench and the equation of the appointment of black and women practitioners to the institutionalisation of mediocrity. The apparent discomfort with theprogress we are making in transforming the Judiciary, as if we are about to encroach into the no go area of privileged interests, and the concomitant boldly declared struggle for “white male” appointment, even if it would result in the perpetuation of their historic over-representation, must be dealt with decisively.’

On pages 453 and 454 of the NDP, calls are also made for the transformation of the judiciary (emphasis added in bold type):

  • ‘For the law to be an agent of change, it must be interpreted and enforced in a progressive, transformative fashion. This requires a judiciary that is progressive in its philosophy and legal inclinations. The selection and appointment of judges affects socioeconomic transformation, as well as the rule of law and the independence of the courts.’
  • ‘Although the Constitution stipulates general criteria for the appointment of judicial officers, it is important for the JSC to elaborate further guiding principles to build consensus on the qualities and attributes of the“ideal South African judge”. The criteria should include a progressive philosophy and an understanding of the socioeconomic context in which the law is interpreted and enforced.’
  • [As one of its final proposals, the National Planning Commission recommends:] ‘Establish clear criteria for appointment of judges, with emphasis on the candidates’ progressive credentials and transformative judicial philosophy and expertise.’

It remains to be seen whether Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng’s take on transformation is incompatible with what is suggested in the NDP.

3. Radical land reform

The NDP proposes a radical model for land reform. It suggests that, over and above land restitution for expropriations after the 1913 Land Act, a further 20 per cent of commercial agricultural land in South Africa must be transferred to black farmers, and that the state should reimburse the expropriated farmer for only 50% of the deemed value of such land.

The 20 per cent earmarked for transfer is to be identified by ‘District Land Committees’. These committees are to be made up of various stakeholders, of which commercial farmers only constitute one such grouping. As for compensation, the following applies: while the state will pay the commercial farmers identified by the District Land Committees 50 per cent of the deemed market value of their land, the remaining farmers are required to provide for the other 50 per cent. In what is reminiscent of a protection racket, the NDP suggests that farmers should cooperate and finance their own expropriation, for which, ‘in exchange, commercial farmers will be protected from losing their land and gain black economic empowerment status.’ The following quotes are relevant:

Page 227: ‘[District Land Committees] will be responsible for identifying 20 per cent of the commercial agricultural land in the district and giving commercial farmers the option of assisting its transfer to black farmers. […]’

‘After being identified, the land would be bought by the state at 50 per cent of market value (which is closer to its fair productive value) The shortfall of the current owner will be made up by cash or in-kind contributions from the commercial farmers in the district who volunteer to participate.’

‘In exchange, commercial farmers will be protected from losing their land and gain black economic empowerment status.’

4. More taxes, redistribution and social welfare services

As with all government projects, finance for its implementation must be obtained from the private sector through greater taxation, inflation or borrowing. Either way, resources must be diverted from the private to the public sector. While the NDP gives no reasonable indication of what its proposals are supposed to cost, it is likely to require substantial funding.

One field in which the NDP proposes substantial expansion includes social welfare and public employment programmes. The following quotes are relevant:

Page 28: ‘Expand welfare services and public employment schemes, enabling the state to service and support poor communities, particularly those with high levels of crime and violence.’

Page 100: ‘The increased demand on health spending and social security will have significant budgetary implications, which taxpayers will have to fund.’

Page 364: ‘One of the main considerations for the future of social protection is the funding of the system. Ultimately, the state must generate sufficient income from the active groups in the population to be able to redistribute to those that are less active or inactive while still meeting other policy priorities.’

Page 377: ‘The state should play a much larger role in the provision of social welfare services, including establishing effective partnerships with the private and community sectors.’

Taxation represents resources taken from the pockets of hard-working South Africans, including Solidarity’s members. The tax increase implied in the above expansion of the social welfare services is only one of many such implications of the NDP.

The SAIRR is right to call the NDP a blank cheque for more taxation. Support for the NDP amounts to support for a greater tax burden and an intrusive social, economic and geographic egalitarian project destined to fail and cause much harm in the process.

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