Planning our way past being a predator state

Our growth has been largely pedestrian. The structure of our economy has not changed significantly in a hundred years. It is still dominated by extractive and related industries. Even the five years of faster growth (2003–2008) exposed systemic weaknesses. Structural unemployment sees many young and unskilled people unable to find jobs. When it comes to electricity, water and transport, our infrastructure is insufficient and inefficient. Our manufacturing base has been weakening; our private sector has not responded adequately to domestic and global opportunities; we have a persistently low savings rate and we rely too much on short-term capital inflows.

… Markets on their own cannot initiate and lead such fundamental change. The State has to play a leading role in reshaping the economy so that it is better able to meet the needs of the majority. This has to be done in partnership with all social forces.

… How do we create jobs for the millions of – mainly young – people many of whom have a poor set of skills?
How do we minimise the risks that the global economy poses for our development?
How do we take full advantage of the opportunities it may present?
How can the State be more effective in intervening to address market failures or guide private sector activity?
How can we minimise the impact of government failure on our development path?

Recent words from red-and-green Patrick Bond? Nope, actually Trevor Manuel signed off on this one, complete with lengthy quotations from John Kenneth Galbraith’s Predator State (see p. 10). These are extracts from, p. 7 onwards, the National Strategic Planning Green Paper, released by the new South African National Planning Commission. Essential reading for anyone concerned with the strategic direction of South Africa’s government and development strategy.

The Green Paper does not propose solutions, but is supposedly the beginnings of a process of developing a 15-year plan for South Africa’s development, along with the establishment of a National Planning Commission. The long-term vision, to be named South Africa 2025, is intended to answer these questions:

How far will we have reduced poverty and inequality?
How many people will be employed in what kind of jobs, and how will we care for the remaining unemployed?
How much lower will the rate of violent crime be, and how will we have achieved that objective?
How will our health be cared for, and how low will TB and HIV and AIDS infection rates have fallen?
How many children will finish school and how many will go to colleges and universities?
How many of us will need private vehicles to get to school and to work, and how will our public transport system operate?
Where will we be living? How much more urbanisation do we expect and plan for?
Conversely, by how much do we expect the output and wealth of our rural areas to improve?
What will be the underlying growth rate, on average, that will allow us to achieve our other goals, and how will we reach that growth rate?

While this is a very early statement, it is notable that there are few if any references to the environment, sustainable development, renewable energy or climate change. Which make Richard Calland’s Mail & Guardian commentary, which favourably compares Trevor’s new baby to the sustainable development commissions being established in other countries, rather over-generous. (Richard reckons Trevor just doesn’t really “get” climate change.)

The government invites comments on the Green Paper: send them to Hassen Mohamed, hassen@po.gov.za, tel: 012 300 5455; fax: 086 683 5455. But do let us know what you think here first!

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About David

I am an environmental writer, journalist and speaker living in Cape Town, South Africa.
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