Pretoria - Buy-in from President Jacob Zuma tipped the balance of forces in favour of the ANC formally adopting the National Development Plan at its national conference. It will inform government planning and efforts to unite South Africans more broadly behind efforts to grow the economy and alleviate poverty and inequality.
Adopted by the cabinet in September, the plan was well received by business and opposition parties and, while Cosatu was critical of some elements, it did not reject it completely.
But sources close to the process said Zuma’s support was critical, as he had set the ball rolling by appointing the National Planning Commission in the first place.
The endorsement at Mangaung indicates that implementation will now get under way in earnest.
The plan will be a major focus at the cabinet lekgotla next month, which sets the government’s programme of action for the year - and there’s a strong possibility that newly elected ANC deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa will drive it, along with Planning Minister Trevor Manuel.
Ramaphosa was deputy chairman of the National Planning Commission under Manuel. “Among the top six leaders of the ANC, he is the one who knows the plan inside out,” a senior ANC member said.
ANC economic transformation committee head Enoch Godongwana said the plan was given “a special place” at the conference. Each of the 15 commissions considering policy questions had to reflect on it.
Confirming delegates’ endorsement of the plan, Godongwana said it was a “dynamic document that articulates a vision broadly in line with our objective to create a national democratic society” and should be used as a basis for this.
The ANC would “continue to engage with the plan”, he said, but would take the lead in mobilising South Africans to rally behind the common vision it offered of society in 2030.
It is the first long-term plan for the country and the product of intense work by a group of experts under Manuel’s leadership, rather than a product of government technocrats or the party.
Godongwana said the plan provided a “national vision over a long-term horizon”. The National Growth Path that focused on job creation, and industrial policy, aimed at growing the economy, would be used as “policy interventions” in relation to it, he said.
In his political report at the start of the Mangaung conference, Zuma stressed the need to address complex challenges faced by South Africa in a coherent, rather than ad hoc, fashion - and to provide policy certainty craved by local and international investors.
Noting that the road to overcoming unemployment, poverty and inequality would be “long and hard”, Zuma said: “Having a long-term planning blueprint creates certainty about where we are going and how we intend to go there”.
The plan would ensure “coherent programmes and strategic discipline within the state and hopefully eliminate silos”, Zuma said, referring to departments working in isolation of one another.
Given the turbulence and uncertainties caused by the global economic crisis it was “easy to lose sight of our vision and strategic priorities, in favour of short-term solutions”, Zuma said. “Having a national strategic vision as a country helps us stay on track.”
Zuma told delegates that the plan was the creation of South Africans and not of either the government or the ruling party.
But the ANC had to “hold it in both hands. Anything we do must be part of the plan”, he said.
The acting head of the National Planning Commission’s secretariat, Khulekani Mathe, said department directors-general and the cabinet had been kept informed every step of the way since the early stages of work on the plan.
That had enabled departments to immediately start implementing the plan and to begin aligning longer-term projects with its precepts. Some of the plan’s recommendations were already being included in departmental performance agreements being drawn up for the next financial year, he said.