Ian Dewar
Ian Dewar

Bring back RDP

Possibly the most significant thing about our new National Development Plan (NDP) is that the overview begins with a quotation from the White Paper on Reconstruction & Development. Back in 1994 this white paper gave us our very first national development plan which was supposed to be implemented through the Reconstruction & Development Programme or ‘RDP’. In the white paper the RDP was defined as “…a policy framework for integrated and coherent socio-economic progress”; which exactly defines the substance of our new National Development Plan.

The great difference between them is, however, that whilst the RDP was big on the implementation strategy but very limited on specific objectives, the NDP is big on specific objectives but very limited on the implementation strategy. Quite logically then, combining these two plans in order to bring the NDP specific objectives together with the RDP implementation strategy would make great sense. The only stumbling block to applying this logic is the very ugly state of current national politics.

As the agency which produced the RDP white paper in 1994 (as well as, in 1996, the new South African Constitution) the Government of National Unity (GNU) was quite exceptional. As a product of the negotiated settlement between the struggle movement and the apartheid regime, this national government agency only worked for a short time before it self-destructed due to internecine political differences. But while it did exist it worked at a level of professional government never seen before in South Africa. This was because getting on with the vital task of ‘rainbow’ nation building demanded that political differences be set aside in order to urgently resolve the historical socio-economic crisis in this country.

With the abandonment of the GNU and the RDP all that was good about the Rainbow Nation began to unravel, to the point now where we have arrived at a state of serious government dysfunctionallity. This is quite apparent, for example, in the high level of political squabbling, slandering, and mud-slinging going on right now; the high level of institutional corruption and inefficiency; and the dire lack of a meaningful economic policy to address burgeoning poverty.

As a result of this political time-wasting our country is in an even deeper state of socio-economic crisis than it was back in 1994 – hence the local riots breaking out everywhere right now. Martin Luther King was right when he stated, “The riots are the voice of the unheard”. The appalling plight of the people on the ground in South Africa has been unaddressed for too long now.

Over the last two weeks in Botrivier, however, I have witnessed a most remarkable turnaround. All three tiers of government have been represented here at the same time, talking to and engaging with the Botrivier community in a most open and forthright manner. Provincial ministers, national ministry observers, and local government officials were actually having a real discussion with the people on the ground. And I think everyone there was relishing the experience, and sensing the potential for some special outcome – something new and creative beyond the realm of our current dividedness and moribundity.

On the government side all it took was professional, GNU-styled conduct to get past these barriers. It is early days I know, but from the government officials I witnessed a genuine level of commitment which bodes well for our local future. On the community side, however, there is a serious problem. Government has long been attempting to build a bridge across the socio-economic divide, but it is only half a bridge. Without having their own capacity or resources the community on the ground does not have the means to build their side of the vital bridge. So the government attempt is a half-bridge to nowhere, except, obviously, down – which is where, nationally, we are still headed right now.

The original ‘Rainbow’ spirit of the RDP has quite evidently been lost by the people on the ground, so now the community lacks the organisational inspiration and togetherness necessary to establish a worthwhile democratic process. As a result it will take a lot of effort and commitment on the part of professional government to get it back. And get it back they must, because achieving ‘integrated and coherent socio-economic progress’ will inescapably depend on meaningful democratic participation for it to succeed.

The National Development Plan projects that by 2030 South Africa must grow its GDP to 2,7 times its current size (which implies a high, but not-impossible, growth rate of 5,4% per annum). Expanding the structure of the national economy to this size will be the entrepreneurial task of civil society and not of government. Government’s strategic role in securing this outcome must rather be to create the environment of logistical opportunities necessary for this huge expansion of GDP to become possible.

A new RDP would then be enabled to do the rest.