National Development Plan helps to focus SA’s mind
The article "Can SA survive another bout of Gear?" (September 20) by Mbuso Ngubane of the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) fails to add anything new or substantive to the important debate about how to address our development challenges between now and 2030.
There is general agreement among various groups in society about the key challenges as well as the goals we should strive to achieve by 2030. The National Development Plan (NDP) works back from 2030 and proposes actions and steps we should take in order to achieve the agreed goals.
The drafters of the NDP are not so arrogant as to believe that they have developed a perfect plan. The National Planning Commission canvassed the views of South Africans in formulating the plan and is on record as inviting all South Africans to get actively involved in processes to advance our shared goals.
Many South Africans are taking up the challenge and sharing their ideas with the commission on how best to implement the NDP. Sadly, Ngubane's article criticises the plan without offering any workable solution or alternative.
Let me now turn to the substance of the article. It characterises the NDP as a "deindustrialisation plan that makes promises of jobs while actually killing our economy".
There is a misconception in the article: namely that the NDP makes promises akin to those made by political parties on the election campaign trail. It does not. The NDP responds to the widely acknowledged challenges of poverty, inequality and unemployment by setting targets and outlining actions to be taken to ensure that our development challenges are addressed. Put differently, the NDP helps to focus the nation's mind by identifying the scale of the challenge at hand.
The criticism of the NDP as a "deindustrialisation plan" is based on a misreading of the projected relative contribution to gross domestic product (GDP) of different sectors. In particular, it is the shrinkage in the contribution of manufacturing to GDP from 12% in 2010 to a projected 9.6% in 2030 that is used to support this criticism. This is not shrinkage of the size of the manufacturing sector; instead, it reflects a trend that has continued for much of the past 30 years or so – that other sectors are growing faster and, therefore, contribute relatively more to GDP than the manufacturing sector.
What this criticism misses is that the NDP envisages an economy in 2030 that is nearly three times its current size. This means that the manufacturing sector will be larger in 2030, because a 9.6% share of a larger economy is bigger than a 12% share of a smaller economy.
The proposals in the NDP are consistent with those in other government programmes, such as the New Growth Path and Industrial Policy Action Plan. They include: lowering the cost of living, particularly for the poor; reducing red tape and regulatory obstacles for small businesses; increasing infrastructure investment, especially in network industries such as water, energy, public transport and freight logistics, and to use these programmes to build our supplier industries; growing the real economy, with focused attention paid to mining, agriculture, manufacturing, tourism and the green economy; and taking firm steps to cap executive and senior management remuneration with a view to reducing wage inequality in the economy.
The NDP outlines a three-pronged strategy to address unemployment and economic growth. The first is that, in addition to boosting educational levels, we must promote industries that are labour-absorbing, such as mining, agriculture, construction, hospitality and small businesses. The second is that we must grow the more advanced sectors of the economy, such as manufacturing, parts of financial services, telecommunications and businesses services. And the third is that we should continue to provide a social wage to enable the poorest of South Africa's people to have a decent standard of living and to build their capabilities to get better jobs, higher incomes and a broader range of benefits.
The criticism that the NDP avoids revealing its underlying philosophy is without substance. The NDP weighs up the evidence of where we are today, where we are likely to be in 2030 on a business-as-usual trajectory, and proposes a middle way that is more desirable and favourable. It acknowledges that the transition from the present undesirable situation to a more desirable one in 2030 will require hard work and that difficult choices will have to be made.
On the issue of employment, the NDP concludes that, if we are to grow labour-intensive industries into globally competitive export engines, then, in the short- to medium-term, the jobs in these labour-intensive industries may not be as desirable as we would like, but they are an entry into the labour market. I have no doubt in my mind that, if many unemployed people were given a chance to express their preferences, they would take a job even if it does not meet the criteria of a "decent" job.
The NDP is also open about the fact that a strategy to promote small-business growth would result in a growing number of people getting jobs in small firms that are unable to afford the pay and benefits that bigger firms offer. This is an example of how transparent the NDP is about the sacrifices that society will have to make during the transition from the present to the desirable 2030 situation.
Some of the alternate policies proposed in Ngubane's article, such as the nationalisation of strategic industries and the imposition of exchange controls to prevent the repatriation of corporate profits, are not without cost to society. Ngubane does not provide a shred of evidence that these policies will result in more jobs, let alone decent jobs.
?Where is the evidence that they will reduce inequality? How will they address our lack of savings to fund investments and social spending? Has the author even considered the possible impact of these policies on foreign direct investment, which we need to cover our savings gap?
Finally, does the NDP require workers, like pigs, to make the ultimate sacrifice in order to provide bacon, while employers only provide eggs for breakfast? This characterisation is unfortunate and only serves to provoke anger among workers.
Those who have read the NDP will know that it envisages a situation where a combination of policy measures – such as containing prices of basic commodities, spatial interventions that reduce workers' expenditure on transport, the social safety net, free basic services, and so on – will contribute to an overall improvement in the standard of living of all citizens. An approach that rejects jobs unless they meet the decent-jobs criteria is very narrow and risks causing a deterioration of the standard of living, for under such strictures many will be locked out of jobs.
The NDP provides an opportunity for South Africans to work together to confront our challenges and build a better future for ourselves and future generations. Let us not squander this opportunity.
Khulekani Mathe is the acting head of the National Planning Commission secretariat