There are moves afoot to adopt the national development plan despite Cosatu's concerns, writes Lisa Steyn.
Often perceived as taking a back seat to the department of economic development's new growth path and even trade and industry's industrial policy action plan, the national development plan has now moved to centre stage after the ANC's 53rd elective conference in Mangaung this week.
ANC president Jacob Zuma greased the wheels for the national development plan to be central to the conference in his opening address on Sunday, saying it was a map for South Africa's future and had to be embraced "with both hands".
Planning Minister Trevor Manuel, chair of the national planning commission that authored the plan, said it had received an "exceedingly warm reception" at the conference. Manuel announced this week that he would not be available for re-election to the executive of the ANC.
Mineral Resources Minister Susan Shabangu and ANC policy head Enoch Godongwana said the conference would argue for broader state intervention in the economy and adopt the national development plan.
It is also speculated that Cyril Ramaphosa's appointment to deputy president of the ANC may give much needed impetus to the plan, because he is the deputy chairperson of the national planning commission.
The national development plan aims to achieve something that has thus far eluded the ruling party in post-apartheid South Africa: the elimination of poverty and reduction of inequality. It acknowledges important progress made since 1994, but identifies persistent problems such as crisis levels of unemployment, inequality and poverty.
The plan is often seen as moderate and less interventionist than the national growth path or the industrial policy action plan, but in the run-up to the conference, government and union representatives denied this, describing the three as complementary.
<strong>Procedures for non-performance</strong>
But the plan is not without controversy, especially on the labour front. It proposes that a tax incentive be offered to employers to reduce the initial cost of hiring entrants to the labour market and entry-level wages be agreed between employers and unions. The adoption of a more open approach to immigration to expand the supply of high-level skills is also suggested, and it calls for the simplification of dismissal procedures for non-performance.
The national development plan raises concern about the possible costs of nuclear power, is in favour of fracking if responsibly done, wants more emphasis on renewable energy, argues for a systems operator independent of Eskom to distribute electricity and wants to promote universal broadband access.
It has the objective of reducing the proportion of households with a monthly income of below R419 a person from 39% to zero by 2030. And the Gini coefficient, the most common measure of inequality, should also fall from 0.69 to 0.6. (The coefficient of the Central African Republic's is 0.61 and Brazil 0.58.)
A number of chief executives and chairpersons of some of the largest companies in the country have committed to the national development plan in an open letter and Cas Coovadia, managing director of the Banking Association of South Africa, said the banking industry would be happy if the ANC adopted the plan as the "critical vision" for the country.
Media reports have suggested the plan is not to the taste of parties such as the South African Communist Party (SACP) or trade union federation Cosatu. Earlier this year, Cosatu said it would not back the plan because it echoed incorrect comments about inflexible labour laws. But Jeremy Cronin, the party's deputy general secretary, denied that this was so for the SACP, noting that it had welcomed the plan's broad vision without necessarily agreeing with every detail. Cronin also announced this week that he was not available to serve on the ANC's national executive committee.
"There's a cherry-picking reading in certain quarters of the plan," Cronin told the <em>Mail & Guardian</em>. "It clearly recognises the role of the private sector, but so does the industrial policy action plan and the new growth path. There is a great deal of convergence between all three documents," he said, although they also differ in their scope, objectives, time frames and status.
It has been reported that neither Economic Development Minister Ebrahim Patel nor Deputy Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene view the two as contradictory.
Sandile Zungu, spokesperson for the Black Business Council, said he believed the initiatives were complementary and could co-exist and the council did not want to be seen as backing one or the other.
Cosatu spokesperson Patrick Craven said he could not comment on the national development plan until decisions had been taken at the conference.
Cronin has noted that the new growth path and industrial policy action plan are essentially government policy documents and the emphasis is therefore likely to be more on what the government has to do, but he said the development plan was not necessarily less state interventionist. "It has many non neoliberal features," he said. For example, it reiterates the need for a virtuous cycle of growth and development and reinforces the linkages between sustainable inclusive growth and social development interventions.
The national development plan also identifies skewed ownership and control as an issue resulting in a highly concentrated corporate landscape as well as spatial misalignments posed by poor physical planning and network infrastructure.