An interview with Pravin Gordhan

“The National Development Plan is not about a delivery system using just fiscal resources and getting the state to deliver. It’s also about creating a new kind of society that’s far more dynamic, far more entrepreneurial, far more energised, far more purposeful in its life and far more hopeful than we might be creating at this point in time.”

Gordhan said that the way to convince ordinary people that the NDP was working in their favour was by understanding and delivering on their needs.

“We need to make sure that there are perceptible changes taking place in their lives. There are many parts of South Africa where ten years ago people didn’t have electricity and now they do. They didn’t have, in some instances water borne sewerage or proper sanitation systems, but now they do. They didn’t have houses, but the houses are there today.

“There’s a whole category of people in South Africa who have experienced changes. We need to also now ensure that apart from quantitative access, we move to quality of services and quality of interaction with citizens.

“We need to constantly understand what their needs are and respond to them. At the same time we must be able to manage expectations about what the state can and can’t do. We need to be frank about where community participation and community ingenuity and energy need to make a contribution so that they also become part of the process of giving life to the NDP.

“We haven’t met every expectation but the changes we’ve been able to undertake over a short 20-year period, which is just one generation by the way, are phenomenal; at the same time we must be humble enough to admit that we still have a long way to go and also have the optimism that we can achieve it.

“We had a recession in 2008 that set us back massively, in terms of both fiscal resources and work. A million people lost their jobs and we didn’t bounce back in the same way as Indonesia or Brazil did. But today, as Indonesia’s growth has dampened and Brazil finds itself in recession, we are growing somewhere between 1.5 and 2% which is better than some, but not good enough for the kind of challenges that we face.”

Referring to the NDP, Gordhan said the President and the ANC had to be congratulated for putting in place “a process which would give us a vision around which all stakeholders in our country could unite, could join in collective action and perhaps even debate crucial policy issues as well.”

“It gave President Zuma’s administration a clear basis upon which to found the Medium-Term Strategic Framework both for the last administration and this. That shows the connection between the work done by the Commission, the various contributions made and the setting of a government five-year programme which then each of our departments has to take into account in formulating our own five-year strategic plans and our one-year annual performance plan – which then needs to be approved by Parliament. The initiative also put in place the Department of Monitoring and Evaluation and both the Commission and that Department had to find their feet in early 2009.

“Generally, global experience shows that as you get better agglomeration around all inner city environments, you get all sorts of beneficial effects in terms of mixed income groups living together, economic opportunities opening up, less costly efforts in terms of job seeking for young people in particular, which is a big issue in South Africa; and clustering of different types of efforts around common themes – whether it’s IT or software development or start-ups.

“Service delivery is another area that the NDP talks about, whether it’s an energy or a water context or other basic services that municipalities provide.

“The NDP also talks about active citizenry, which is a timeous and crucial challenge for us. South Africans are used to the idea over the last 20 years that you wait and we will deliver. A theme that we want to pursue in that regard is some work that I did in the Treasury with the World Bank around township economics and what kind of strategies people have developed themselves. How do we find ways of supporting their strategies for such subsistence forms of economy? As well as the informal sector and the micro-sector – which is something that Minister Lindiwe Zulu’s new department is looking at as well.”

Gordhan said that most municipal structures in South Africa are still very young, which could explain some of their teething problems.

“Our municipal structures are only 16 years old. Some of them are even younger because they’ve merged into one area, like Tshwane. It’s only been since 2011 that other municipalities merged to form Tshwane. It’s going to be another ten, 15 years before we evolve to a stage where we have a stable number. Currently there are still municipalities where you have 5 000 people and five or ten wards and three councillors. These are some of the aberrations that we want to overcome.

“We want a professionalisation of the bureaucracy and we want the political role-players and the administration to understand their place and their role and develop a culture of mutual respect for each other’s roles.

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