Coronavirus (Covid-19) has awakened the reality that the world can change more abruptly than could have ever been imagined.  Photo: Thobile Mathonsi
Coronavirus (Covid-19) has awakened the reality that the world can change more abruptly than could have ever been imagined. Photo: Thobile Mathonsi

Can coronavirus awaken the science of long-term planning in South Africa?

By Pali Lehohla Time of article published Jun 30, 2020

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JOHANNESBURG -  Coronavirus  (Covid-19) has awakened the reality that the world can change more abruptly than could have ever been imagined. 

Until the eve of the pandemic, technological changes were seen as the prime mover and disrupter par excellence. They embossed the stamp of authority that long-term planning was not helpful. 

Even in the glare of the Sustainable Development Goals, heavy lifting remained a necessary condition and key success factor to stimulate fossilised policy positions to move from short termism towards long-term planning. 

The mysterious paradox is that the pandemic has put advocates of structural adjustments and mediumterm frameworks to deep shame as the gods of development theory and practice. 

The Indlulamithi Scenarios for South Africa hold hope to a nation that eight years ago became desirous to become a developmental state by developing the National Development Plan (NDP) and pegging its first deliverable at 2030. Indlulamithi, conceived in 2015 and launched in 2018 by President Cyril Ramaphosa, has become an anchor and resource fountain to articulate future outcomes for South Africa by 2030. But the big question is what did the South African government as the prime mover and ourselves as the rest of society do to the NDP? 

To give scope to the magnitude of the question, I reflect on what happened to the results of Census 2011. I hopped from municipality to municipality to deliver the numbers to political parties, NGOs and business. My schedule read like a busy bee. I even had the largest congregation to address, the ANC elective conference in Mangaung. The cheers to the numbers were rapturous and as my team and I stepped off the stage we were confident that we had spurred the necessary impetus to the NDP. In February 2013, six of us from across the world were invited to China to discuss their 2010 Census. 

The key question was the economic implications of China on its demographics. China’s economy was growing and continues to do so amid an ageing population. What were the demographic implications on the economy of China? The answer was an aggressive population control with a one-child policy. At the end of the session three resolutions were made that would serve at the politburo. 

The first was the one child policy was reversed to two child policy in order to stimulate domestic demand while ensuring that China’s ageing population structure was reversed without increasing the absolute size of the population. The second was that China’s economy would grow through domestic demand. The third was that China would maintain export-led growth. 

The resolutions are playing out as China faces off with the US in current trade wars. Can we compare this with South Africa’s dance and song? The Indlulamithi Scenarios are an important element of our planning system. 

They have a barometer and each is undergirded by long-term econometric modelling almost entirely based on Statistics SA data. Perhaps this is what will become the conscience of the nation etched in deep science as the virus awakens the science of modelling and longterm planning in South Africa as well. 

Dr Lehohla is the former statisticiangeneral and former head of Statistics South Africa


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