The 10-year review of the National Development Plan

The National Development Plan (NDP) was adopted as government strategy in 2013 and the National Planning Commission has just published its 10-year review.

The 10-year review of the National Development Plan
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The report, made public on 8 September, was given to President Cyril Ramaphosa for action and implementation. It provides a clear view of what went wrong and whether the NDP was still relevant.

Typical of such a review from a body like the National Planning Commission, the issues mentioned would be generic and individuals, political parties or organisations would not be mentioned by name.

When the decline began

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It is clear from the review that things started going wrong in South Africa from 2008/09 and the Zuma years, when state capture was the main aim.

Added to this was the economic devastation, especially from 2016 onwards following Zuma’s silly appointment of Des van Rooyen as finance minister in 2015.

The 10-year review should have received more attention in the media, but it had to compete with events such as the impeachment of the public protector, Busisiwe Mkhwebane, after two years of hearings; the death of IFP stalwart Mangosuthu Buthelezi at the age of 95; the Lady-R report; and the Rugby World Cup in France.

It is clear that the Sixth Administration (from 2019) under Ramaphosa has made little progress with the NDP following the Zuma years, but that the Seventh Administration (2024–2029) will be under huge pressure to achieve some of the NDP goals towards 2030.

The 76-page review makes no bones about the fact that the original issues and goals set from 2011–2013 are still the primary challenges, but that government has failed in most instances to bring about changes contemplated for a 2030 strategic horizon.

These original challenges were:

  1. Too few people work;
  2. The quality of school education for black people is poor;
  3. Infrastructure is poorly located, inadequate and undermaintained;
  4. Spatial divides hobble inclusive development;
  5. The economy is unsustainably resource-intensive;
  6. The public health system cannot meet demand or sustain quality;
  7. Public services are uneven and often of poor quality;
  8. Corruption levels are high; and
  9. South Africa remains a divided society.

The NDP review is of the opinion that most of the goals are achievable and should not be abandoned, except that Chapter 3, about the economy and employment, should be rewritten.

I am of the opinion that Chapter 6, dealing with an integrated and rural agriculture, should also be rewritten. The NDP stated in 2013 that better integration of the country’s rural areas could be achieved through successful land reform, infrastructure development, job creation and poverty alleviation.

It also envisaged an expansion of irrigated agriculture, supplemented by dryland production, as key in enabling rural communities to have better opportunities to participate fully in the economic, social and political life of the country.

The NDP furthermore targeted the redistribution and restitution of 20% of private commercial agricultural land by 2030. The target was meant to build on the 2011 baseline of 6,2 million hectares already transferred through government programmes (about 7,5% of this land) and another amount through private transactions.

The 2030 NDP target would see 22,8 million hectares in black hands by 2030. An additional 20% would result in the transfer of a further 14 million hectares.

It is important to note that there are 82,7 million hectares of private commercial agricultural land, which is equivalent to 68% of South Africa, but only 13% is arable and one third is located in the Northern Cape.

Land redistribution in the rural development environment has slowed since 2012 and the ANC’s unsuccessful strategy of changing the constitution to enable quicker land reform did not help in this regard.

In an economy where the cost of land has constantly increased and government spending has been limited, rural reform has remained under pressure. Weak policy implementation and governance, as well as corruption contributed to poor performance in rural reform.

Failures of government

The 10-year review listed failures in government actions, such as a lack of support services for new and emerging farmers and insufficient incentives by government to encourage the private sector to provide them.

Also highlighted is the fact that government has not made progress in developing agricultural value chains identified in the NDP, specifically in the labour-intensive value chain and export-intensive value chain.

Water licensing and pricing remain a challenge, in particular, for emerging farmers.

The report suggests a focus on the following in the lead-up to 2030:

  • Ensure programmes and legislation governing rural reform and rural development are effectively implemented to cater for farmer development methods and land holding;
  • Strengthen land administration systems by adequate decentralising of decision making to local government, as well as building capacity;
  • Provide comprehensive support to smallholders to ensure increased productivity and expansion of production, such as more investment in agro-processing;
  • Ensure that land reform and development programmes emphasise climate adaptation and innovation;
  • Promote the development of smallholders and small businesses and facilitate access to both domestic and global value chains and markets; and
  • Improve provision of rural infrastructure, access to finance, skills, access to inputs and capital equipment, and marketing and transport infrastructure, with rural development and land reform being the core of agrarian reform and economic development.
  • The focus on local government in implementing rural reform seems like wishful thinking if one were to take into account the plethora of governance and financial difficulties in 90% of all the 257 local governments in South Africa, especially those in rural areas. The proposed changes to rural development would have been much easier to attain if the review report stated four basic strategies, to be followed by a second series of changes to the value chains and agro-processing. The crucial changes for rural development can be summarised as:
  • Sort out the governance and financial problems of local governments. Encourage civil action groups to participate.
  • Provide basic services, inclusive of water and electricity, and encourage those with capacity to unlock problems to help;
  • Focus on infrastructure in terms of capital projects and maintenance, especially roads and rail where needed, and encourage the private sector to take the lead; and
  • Focus on crime in rural areas such as stock theft, arson and ‘farm murders’ among all population groups. We must make the rural areas safe again.

For the NDP to reach its goal in 2030,  different sectors of society will have to work more closely together, and that will probably have to wait until after the 2024 elections.

The inability of various sectors of society to place the broader national interest before their own sectoral interest, and the lack of trust between government, business and labour, as well as citizens’ distrust of the state, have collectively constrained the implementation and progress of the NDP.

Theo Venter is a professor of Practice in the School of Public Management, Governance and Public Policy, University of Johannesburg.