COVID-19 has caused widespread disruptions in society and the economy, but how has it affected long-term national planning? A new publication from the Bureau for Economic Research (BER), in collaboration with the IJR, provides an assessment of South Africa’s progress towards the 2030 goals of the National Development Plan (NDP).

The NDP was published in 2012 and set out several ambitious goals for the country to achieve by 2030. Nearly a decade has passed since the publication of South Africa’s flagship policy document, so how close is the country to achieving its goals?

Data from the South African Reconciliation Barometer (SARB), a nationally representative public opinion survey from the IJR, was used to measure the progress of several indicators in the report. The BER report combined the NDP’s fifteen chapters into seven thematic areas.

1. Creating a capable, ethical and developmental state

Inclusive economies and social development flourish when the state is capable and ethical. Over the last few years, the incidence of service delivery protests increased between 2016-19 and perceptions regarding the quality of governance have become increasingly negative. Negative perceptions about corruption are substantiated by high levels of irregular government expenditure. SARB data shows there was a substantial improvement in public trust in institutions between 2017 and 2019, perhaps an influence from Ramaphosa’s ascension to the presidency in 2018, but South Africa is still a long way from building a capable state.

2. Enhancing economic transformation

The NDP set out to achieve nearly 6% annual GDP growth, halve the unemployment rate and eliminate food poverty by 2030. The available evidence suggests South Africa is not any closer to achieving this goal than it was in 2012 and, in fact, some economic indicators have regressed since then. COVID-19 caused a shock to the economy, but unemployment was already at a record high and the economy in recession before the impact of the pandemic could be measured. Under lockdown, levels of food poverty have increased. The pandemic will set the economy back by several years, but the pre-COVID economy was far below the expectations of the NDP.

3. Improving educational outcomes and health

The NDP set several ambitious educational targets and there has not been substantial progress regarding early childhood education, except for a 2% increase in the share of 5 year olds in Grade R. Post-school education goals, such as increasing the number of graduates, are still some way off, but are not unreasonable targets. On health, substantial progress in expanding anti-retroviral coverage and treatment for tuberculosis has been made, and maternal mortality has decreased substantially since 2009. The COVID-19 pandemic has claimed tens of thousands of lives and placed an immense burden on the healthcare system, which has yet to be sufficiently quantified.

4. Strengthening the social wage and quality services

The expansion of basic services such as electricity and piped water has declined between 2014-18 and the quality of these services remains uneven. Access to the internet, however, has expanded rapidly from 48% of households in 2014 to 64% in 2018. Increased provision of social protection has reduced overall levels of hunger from 35% of households in 2002 to 16% in 2018. The pandemic has highlighted the need for social assistance that has sufficient value and is accessible.

5. Human settlements

Between 1996 and 2017, the share of South Africans living in formal housing increased from 64% to 80%, while the share of those living in informal housing declined from 16% to 14% over the same time period. Although housing provision has been a major policy focus of the democratic government, millions of South Africans still live in informal residences with insecure tenure rights. To achieve the goal of upgrading all informal settlements on well-located land by 2030, housing provision and low-cost developments will need to accelerate.

6. Advancing social cohesion

Social cohesion is difficult to measure, but examining levels of public trust, perceptions of equality and identity affiliations provides some idea of cohesion. The SARB survey shows South Africans do not have a high degree of trust in people from different backgrounds or state institutions and inequality is perceived to be the greatest division in society. However, most South Africans agree that it is possible and desirable to create a united South African nation.

7. Working for a better Africa and world

International trade accounts for a majority of South Africa’s gross domestic product, but imports and exports in Africa have remained a relatively small share of national trade. The inauguration of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA), the world’s largest free-trade area, is intended to stimulate regional trade. Although the long-term effects of the pandemic on international trade are yet to be quantified, the AfCFTA will lower the barriers to regional trade and could enable South Africa to reach its NDP goal for the region.

South Africa’s progress towards the NDP goals has been disappointing in many areas, but promising in others. Importantly, many of the indicators that measure progress towards the NDP goals have yet to account for the effects of the pandemic. Through the collection of public opinion data in the SARB survey, the IJR is contributing to much-needed monitoring of national progress towards the NDP goals.

Mikhail Moosa, Project Leader for the SARB