We must all chip in for growth

2012-08-18 14:15

If national development goes according to the new plan, life is bound to improve for the majority of South Africans

One of the key messages of the national development plan that was publicly released in Parliament on Wednesday is that all South Africans have an active role to play in shaping the future of the country.

The decisions and actions we take today will place our families and communities on a path significantly different from the one we are on at present.

All citizens have a responsibility and an active role to play in bringing about change.

During the handing-over ceremony, all political parties expressed support for the key thrust of the plan.

While, as expected, there was some wrangling on one or two matters of detail and the critical issue of the government’s capacity to implement the plan, the fact that each of the parties sought to assert their support for the plan – even in trying to outdo one another as its
biggest supporter – is itself a positive thing.

The final national development plan emerged from a process of engagement and consultation with hundreds of people and civil society organisations across South Africa over the past nine months.

From all of these engagements there emerged a strong consensus on active citizenry: development is everyone’s responsibility. This message resonated well among all people across political, race, gender and class lines.

In villages across the country, people told stories of how they used to build their own homes and plough their fields without government assistance. This gave them a sense of pride.

While government has a critical role to play in implementing development policies, programmes merely driven from above, without active citizenry, disempower people. As such, our pursuit of the plan’s objectives should not only be people-centred, but also people-driven. The belief in a state that “delivers” can have the unintended consequence of making citizens passive.

Of course, we need a capable state that cares and meets its mandate. But, more importantly, we need a state that empowers people as individuals and as part of communities, and builds their capabilities to improve their own lives.

For example, the active participation of citizens in building their own homes, with appropriate assistance from government, can be more effective in alleviating the housing backlog. As such, there would be a greater sense of ownership by beneficiaries.

The idea of an engaged, active citizenry is best understood in the context of the plan’s objectives.

One of the goals is to reduce poverty, as measured by monthly income of only R419 per person (in 2009 prices), from its current 39% to zero. This is an ambitious goal considering we only managed to reduce poverty from approximately 52% in 1995 to 39% in 2010.

The second goal is to reduce income inequality, as measured by the Gini coefficient. Attaining both these goals will require extraordinary effort from everyone.

Some of the milestones towards these goals include increasing the number of employed (and self-employed) people from 13 million in 2010 to 24 million in 2030, and raising yearly income per person from R50 000 in 2010 to R120 000 in 2030.

Critically, the share of national income of the bottom 40% must increase from 6% to 10%.

To achieve these objectives, progress will have to be made across a range of sectors from education, public transport, community safety, healthcare, rural development, the economy and infrastructure to energy and human settlements.

For these goals to be realised, various sectors of society must play an active role. Stokvels and big corporations, alike, will have to understand the value of prioritising the future over the present in deciding how to invest their savings.

It is in the interest of corporations to invest in productive assets that will improve their competitiveness and raise their productivity.

Individuals need to invest in better houses to improve their living conditions, but they also need to invest in education and skills of the young and old. Parents must encourage their children to learn and achieve their dreams. But steps towards a big dream include ensuring children attend school regularly and on time every day and that they do their homework. It is this kind of human endeavour that will ensure the future is better for everyone.

Citizens also have an important role that goes beyond individual households. Parents and community members who serve on school governing bodies and hospital boards have a responsibility to make sure these institutions provide public services effectively.

Improving health outcomes requires all citizens to take greater care of their health by leading active and healthy lifestyles, adhering to the rules of the road, and practising safe sex. Community safety is as much an outcome of effective law enforcement as it is an outcome of community involvement.

In addition, the local-government process of formulating integrated development plans requires community input.

All of us need to use these and other avenues to become active citizens, who direct change and hold government to account for the quality of services it provides.

All actions included in the plan are carefully selected to ensure that progress is made towards the key goals of eliminating poverty and reducing inequality. Overall, the plan makes more than 119 recommendations which cover a range sectors.

Most of these are familiar. However its uniqueness is that the plan promotes the need for tangibles such as road and rail construction as emphatically as it promotes the non-tangibles such as the need to build an ethical state and strong institutions. It calls for decisive leadership across society and active citizenry.

While politicians and state bureaucrats do matter as stewards of the democratic state, the cause of social change does not start and end with them. The ultimate custodians of transformation are the people themselves. At the same time, society should itself take the initiative to realise Vision 2030.

» Netshitenzhe is a member of the National Planning Commission 

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