Issued by Chairman Dave Steward on behalf of the FW de Klerk Foundation, on 05/10/2023


The recent 10 Year Review of the National Development Plan (NDP) deserves more than passing attention as it points to where South Africa has gone so terribly wrong and what we should have done to achieve a better life for all our people. 

The NDP had its origins in the 2009 Green Paper on National Strategic Planning that proposed that a National Planning Commission (NPC) be established to “develop the country’s long-term vision and a national strategic plan.” The NPC’s first Chairman was Trevor Manuel who – during his long term as Finance Minister – had successfully implemented conventional macro-economic policies, embodied in the Government’s GEAR programme. His deputy chairman was Cyril Ramaphosa – then a prosperous businessman. The NPC’s members were drawn from business, government and labour sectors.

In 2011, the NPC produced a National Diagnostic Report which identified the elimination of poverty and the reduction of inequality as its two strategic objectives. It also listed nine challenges that included:

  • high unemployment;
  • poor education – especially for black South Africans;
  • inadequate and antiquated infrastructure;
  • spatial planning that marginalised the poor;
  • unsustainable resource-intensive growth;
  • an ailing public health system;
  • poor public service delivery;
  • corruption; and
  • the fact that South Africa was still a divided society.

In 2012 the NPC produced the NDP, which made detailed proposals to address these nine challenges – which could be distilled to three overarching priorities, namely combatting poverty, inequality and unemployment.

In its 10 Year Review, the NPC acknowledges that South Africa has failed comprehensively with all but one of the goals that the NDP set out to achieve by 2030. Its 2012 target had been to reduce the GINI coefficient – which measures inequality – from .69 to .6. In 2021 it remained at .69. It had wanted to reduce unemployment from 25.4% to 6% by 2030, but unemployment had increased to 32.9% by 2022. It envisaged that the number of people in employment would increase from 13,6 million in 2012 to 24 million in 2030. However, by 2022, the number had increased to only 16,1 million.

South Africa also failed to reach the economic and financial goals upon which combatting poverty, inequality and unemployment depended. Economic growth should have been en route to increasing from 3.3% in 2011 to 5.4% in 2030, but by 2022 it had regressed to only 1.1%. Throughout the decade it averaged only 1%. Gross fixed capital formation was supposed to grow from 19.3% of GDP in 2012 to 30% by 2030, but by 2022 it had decreased to 14.1%.

The exception to this litany of failure was progress with the percentage of people in the lower-bound poverty line group from 36.4% in 2011 to 21.7% in 2018. Nevertheless, there was an apparently contradictory increase in the number of people living below the food poverty line from 13,3 million in 2015 to 19,4 million (32.6% of the population) by 2020. 

The NPC did not pull its punches in identifying the reasons for the NDP’s failure:

“Instead of a capable state, on which the plan is predicated, we have an increasingly corrupt state; instead of a seamless planning system, we have a disjointed planning system that is poorly implemented and misaligned to the strategic goals of the NDP; instead of a more inclusive and equitable economy, we have economic policies that do not seem to be achieving the transformation that is required.”

However, the NPC did not mention the core reason for the NDP’s failure – the Alliance’s commitment to catastrophically inappropriate ideologies.

The NDP was doomed from its inception because it was anathema to the SACP and COSATU which had emerged triumphant from the ANC’s pivotal Polokwane conference in December 2007. While conforming with the general principles of social democracy, the NDP alarmed the left wing by calling for a more open labour market; greater certainty for foreign investors; and the appointment of people in the public sector on the basis of merit rather than cadre deployment. It also stressed the need for national cohesion.

Nevertheless, the ANC officially adopted the NDP at its Mangaung Conference in 2012. It described it as “a living and dynamic document” that “articulates a vision which is broadly in line with our objective to create a national democratic society and should be used as a common basis for this mobilisation…” However, the same conference also endorsed the radical implementation of the second phase of the National Democratic Revolution (NDR) which was irreconcilable with many of the NDP’s core approaches.

The SACP and COSATU continued their assault on the NDP at the Alliance summit in September 2013. They successfully insisted that the “NDP is not carved in stone” and that the Alliance should “oversee the redrafting and fundamental overhaul” of the NDP’s political orientation. They also demanded the scrapping of the NDP’s core economic chapter and “any other aspects of the NDP in conflict with Alliance policies”. The SACP was, in effect, proposing that the NDP should be eclipsed in all, but name and should be brought in line with its own socialist National Growth Path and Industrial Policy Action Plan.

Percipiently, the NPC warned in the 2011 Diagnostic Report that “political change brings no guarantee of social, economic or indeed political progress.” It observed that “throughout history many civilisations, empires and countries have experienced dramatic decline rather than progress”. It identified the main causes of societal decline as corruption; the weakening of state and civil society institutions; poor economic management; skills and capital flight; politics dominated by ethnicity and factionalism; and the lack of maintenance of infrastructure and standards of service.

The NPC could hardly have been more accurate in predicting the factors that have led to the failure of the NDP and to the parlous state in which the country now finds itself. However, they missed the ideological contradictions at the heart of the NDP’s failure: the plan could not be reconciled with the SACP’s commitment to socialism, or with the ANC’s obsession with the implementation of the radical economic transformation agenda at the heart of the NDR.

In a speech on 25 July, 2012, FW de Klerk observed that there were two roads that the ANC could have chosen at its National Conference in Mangaung:  

“There is the NDP road of the realistic analysis of the problems that confront us and the development of pragmatic, inclusive and workable approaches to the solution of those problems. On the other hand, there is the NDR’s ideological analysis of the nature and origin of our problems and the radical, divisive and disproven solutions that it prescribes. These two roads are irreconcilable and lead to very different destinations.”

Sadly, all of us are now experiencing the lamentable destination to which we have been brought by the Government’s failure to give serious and concerted attention to the implementation of the NDP.