OR Tambo Debate Series – the new dynamic to support the National Development Plan

Since the adoption of the National Development Plan (NDP), the government has shifted its focus towards achieving the goals set out in the plan. In an attempt to contribute and assist government to effctively implement priorities outlined in the plan, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in South Africa in partnership with the Department of Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation (DPME); the Tambo Foundation (TF), and the Wits School of Governance (WSG) agreed to collaborate on an ambitious programme to support this new focus.

To achieve this, a project was developed which includes three mutually reinforcing components, i) a series of public debates dubbed the OR Tambo Debate Series, ii) roundtable discussions on each of the debate topics for a more in-depth scrutiny, and iii) more detailed research and analysis on specific issues as may be required to generate new and practical solutions and ideas while providing tangible and actionable guidance to the government and its partners on implementing the NDP. The three components also intend to strengthen some of the high level proposals that are outlined in the plan.

The Chief Executive Officer of the Tambo Foundation, Mr. Mavuso Msimang, describes the debate series as a platform to pay homage to the life and work of Mr. Oliver Tambo, President of the ANC during the struggle’s darkest days.

“As a struggle stalwart, Oliver Reginald Tambo was most noted for his exceptional leadership skills combined with hard-nosed political realism. The Tambo Foundation is delighted at the opportunity to support what is currently the most important debate in South Africa for public discussion,” said Msimang.

The purpose of the debate series is to engage a cross-section of South Africans and institutions on a forward looking discussion on the implementation of the NDP. It will also assist in suggesting solutions which the government can adopt to effectively implement its priority programmes that are voiced under a specific topic according to a chapter taken from the NDP.

Professor Anne Mc Lennan, of the WSG, described the debates as an opportunity for decision makers to critically look at what is stipulated in the NDP and see if they are indeed implementable and consider alternative options.

“What we are hoping is that the debates will open up the range of policy options that are available to decision makers in particular in relation to the current context based on current information and in that sense we are hoping that the debates will influence, to some extent the people who are making decisions both in the broader society, in business and in government, to think through some slightly different options…” said Prof Mc Lennan.

Since the inception of the programme in July 2014, five public debates have taken place tackling different development issues under the following themes; i) How to Implement the NDP, ii) Labour Markets and Social Protection, iii) International Relations, iv) Basic Education, and v) Building a Capable State. More are planned for 2016 and beyond.

While the real policy impact of these debates will most likely only be seen over the longer term, the debates have started to show positive results in terms of providing opportunities for policy discussions.

“We in Government are already beginning to see some benefits emerging from these debates. The debate on social protection has already led to some ground breaking research that we have carried out with the support of UNDP to see how government can extend social protection to informal workers”, said Ms. Percy Moleke, Programme Manager for Research and Policy at the Department of Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation in the Presidency.

These debates have attracted large numbers of participants starting from those that are able to physically attend the events and a much larger following that engages with the debate using various social media platforms. The fourth and fifth debates alone, themed Accountability for Effective Basic Education and Building a Capable State, respectively managed to reach out to over 2,171,199 people and had 14,492,993 impressions through twitter. This is a clear sign that these debates and their messages are reaching very large audiences nationwide.

UNDP has been pleased to be part of this inclusive process. In the words of Mr. Gana Fofang, UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative, “The debate series serves as an important tool for policy renewal in several dimensions of human development by raising the quality of the debates on policy options for improving outcomes based on international experience and local realities. This is why UNDP, together with other UN agencies here in South Africa, have stepped up to financially and technically support this process as it allows us to draw on the outstanding national capacity available in the country while at the same time drawing on the wealth of global development experience and knowledge from across the United Nations system to inform the various topics”.

UNDP has committed a total of US$220,000 to this programme for an initial period of two years with room for other partners to join and support the programme. As future debates unfold more robust discussions among the various stakeholders can certainly be expected. High on the agenda in the future debate programme will be to consider the alinement between the NDP and Agenda 2030 the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that South Africa has adopted and will be localized to suit its needs.