In 1985, a movie starring Mel Gibson called Mad Max III (Beyond Thuderdome) was released; it was a post-apocalyptic saga that formed part of the Mad Max trilogy. The movie’s soundtrack was a song by Tina Turner, titled “We don’t need another Hero (Thunderdome)”. Well, South Africa is not a post-apocalyptic wasteland, but the country can learn a few things from Tina Turner’s song. The words of this song remind us that sometime new strategies (or new heroes) are not always necessary to solve age-old issues, but rather clear-minded review of the existing programmes.
The national government is currently flying the flag of the New Growth Path (NGP) and the National Development Plan (NDP) Vision 2030. The NDP is the blue print for all of South Africa’s national state departments driving towards the year 2030. A clear direction to lead South Africa is necessary, but what of the strategies of the former administrations. Are there lessons that can be learned from previous initiatives, rather than just aggressively marketing a new path?
Any newly elected president brings their own perspective, a new way of doing things and a few new projects. Surprisingly in South Africa’s case, the previous four presidents (Mandela, Mbeki, Motlanthe and Zuma) all came from the same political party, yet we see very little consistency in their actions and virtually no follow through from their predecessors (there are many reasons why that is the case, but I’m not going to dwell on that). The current administration of President Jacob Zuma is still battling with the same problems that were experienced during the Mandela and Mbeki eras: problems such as inequality, unemployment and an aging infrastructure.
Former programmes such as the “Reconstruction and Development Programme” (RDP), “Growth, Employment and Redistribution” (GEAR) and the “Accelerated and Shared Growth Initiative of South Africa” (ASGISA) are currently shelved (Sanlam 2013), but there remains very little literature that reviews the success or failures of these erstwhile measures. In their times, these programmes of action are touted as new plans meant to save poor South Africans from their dire situations. With much media hype, the proposals are flaunted as ‘national heroes’ created to save South Africa and make the country great – the present NDP is no different.
Currently, there is a lot of media attention surrounding the government’s National Infrastructure Plan (NIP), because it is in line with the New Growth Path. With the NPI, the South African government plans to spend ZAR 827 billion, over a period of three (3) years, for infrastructure upgrades nationwide (South African Government 2013). That is an expenditure of nearly a trillion Rands that is aimed at creating jobs, improving infrastructure, linking multiple industries and stimulating the economy (that’s a lot of money by any measure). Spending on development is a good idea; of concern is not how much money is being spent, but rather how it will the funds ultimately be used. We have seen many new major projects in the past, but publicly available reviews of the progress of previous projects and monitoring mechanisms remain scarce.
The concept of the NDP is nothing new to South Africans; it is but a new hero following in the footsteps of previous heroes (such as RDP, GEAR and ASGISA). It is the new catch-phrase used to excite the masses and entice the media. It is uttered in the same breath with other new-age ideas that include “the green economy” and “integrated development projects”. Is the NDP a new way to deal with old problems? Is this new initiative the government’s way of separating itself from its predecessors in order to chart its own course? Or is it a way to way of throwing new money at old problems?
Unfortunately the numbers do not speak well of these ‘national heroes’; the unemployment rate, poverty and inequality show us that very little progress has been made. The National Development Plan (NDP) has been heralded as South Africa’s road map for the next 20 years (All Africa 2013), but I am afraid that during the next 20 years a new administration will be in place to announce yet another new plan to try to solve the same old problems.
All Africa (2013), “NDP Is South Africa’s Roadmap – Zuma” (14 June 2013), Retrieved July 7, 2013, from allafrica.com, Website: http://allafrica.com/stories/201306140799.html
Sanlam Investor and Economic Relations (2013), “How new is the New Growth Path really?”, Retrieved July 7, 2013, from sanlam.co.za, Website: http://www.sanlam.co.za/wps/wcm/connect/sanlam_en/Sanlam/Investor%20Relations/Economic%20Information/Economic%20Commentary/How%20new%20is%20the%20New%20Growth%20Path%20really?presentationtemplate=Shared/PT-Print
South African Government Information (2013), “National Infrastructure Plan” (04 June 2013 16:19:57), Retrieved July 6, 2013, from info.gov.za, Web site: http://www.info.gov.za/issues/national-infrastructure-plan/index.html