Taking RDP to the Streets

Against the Current, No. 51, July/August 1994

Moses Mayekiso

COMRADES, FOR THE first time, we have had a historic parliamentary session which is representative of the people’s wishes. We must congratulate the civic movement for contributing to the destruction of apartheid and for contributing to the new democracy. The new political system was explained by our State President, Comrade Nelson Mandela, as a people-centered democracy in a people-centered society.

We in SANCO must take this further, by ensuring that our slogan ‘People-Centered Development” can be fulfilled not only through the new government but also in the streets of our cities, townships and villages. In the society Comrade Mandela described in his state of the nation speech, the theme was the liberation of people–from want, from oppression, from inhumanity. These are also the goals of SANCO. We in SANCO have developed both policies and projects that make these visions concrete and implementable.

Comrade Mandela did not speak about a simple process of government delivery. Instead, our visions will depend upon civil society, such as civics, trade unions, churches, women’s groups, the youth and so forth. This poses to us a major challenge: to assist in the implementation of the Reconstruction and Development Program (RDP). When SANCO endorsed the ANC at our special national conference last November, it was on the basis not only of its traditional liberation movement leadership. It was also because the ANC agreed to incorporate our goals, objectives and policy ideas into the RDP.

The RDP also appealed to us because it was clear that it would be people-driven and grassroots-oriented, and would guarantee the role of a strong and independent civil society, especially “Community-Based Organizations” (CBOs). “Development is not about the delivery of goods to a passive citizenry. It is about active involvement and growing empowerment,” the RDP declares.

There is a division of labor in this. As the SANCO Commission on Development Finance put it in our report Making People-Driven Development Work, “It is for national government to set overall priorities and goals, for provincial and local governments to interpret those priorities in the context of local conditions, and for communities to determine the actual form and content of the development.” Now, as we come to our second biannual congress, riding the crest of the ANC’s landslide electoral victory, we look forward to taking the RDP forward into our daily work.

Before looking at how we do this, let us review what the RDP says about civics (i.e. grassroots civic organizations—ed.) in development.

The RDF and Civics

Our immediate role, according to the document, is to bring the RDP “to People’s Forums, rallies and meetings in communities.” The RDP continues: “During 1994, trade unions, sectoral social movements and CBOs, notably civics, must be encouraged to develop RDP programs of action and campaigns within their own sectors and communities.”

But how do we go about writing an RDP of our own? The national document is 147 pages, filled with complex information and policies. Even the provincial documents  that are appearing are much broader than many of us in the civic movement can easily engage with. So we must develop an approach to the RDP that fits our most urgent needs and helps us plan for future development.

First, we need resources and capacity-building support, and the RDP acknowledges this: “Social movements and CBOs are a major asset in the effort to democratize and develop our society.” The RDP promises us the resources we as civics need to participate in the “elaboration and implementation” of the RDP: “A set of rigorous criteria must be established to ensure that beneficiaries deserve the assistance and use it for the designated purposes. Every effort must be made to extend organization into marginalized communities and sectors like, for instance, rural black women.”

So, we have the right to expect funding for our basic organizational work. Of course, we must ensure that this does not lead to dependency and machine-politics.

Second, we need to be sure than when we develop our local RDP, we have a formal voice so that it will be considered seriously. The RDP also gives us this: “Trade unions and other mass organizations must be actively involved in democratic public policy-making.” The RDP Council, on which I represent SANCO, has suggested that the RDP Cabinet Committee brings the Council into the formal process in future, and that we also develop a “Socio-Economic Council” which would include non-MDM forces, such as business interests, where we can thrash out policy positions. (MDM here stands for Mass Democratic Movement—ed.)

These structures will be established at provincial level, too. But at local level the debate continues as to how our civic voice will be heard and development delivered. How can we be confident of our ability to assess our community’s needs? Can we achieve quick results in development, when after all our skills were forged in protest politics?

One way to make us more accountable is to establish a “community-based information order” with the financial support of national and provincial RDP offices, as Comrades Jeremy Cronin and Jayendra Naidoo suggest in a recent report on RDP implementation. (Naidoo, a prominent ANC radical, has been appointed to administer the RDP, working from Mandela’s office—ed.) We want to set off an explosion of community newsletters, radio and other forms of communication. This will help all our local residents become more involved in community activism and development.

Our Commission also provides ideas on delivery through new local institutions: “Community-based Development Organizations (CBDO5) have shown that they can actually carry out development.. Once approved, (Community Development Forums envisaged by the RDP, which SANCO hopes to make broadly representative of disadvantaged sectors—ed.) would have a right to government capacity building finance to help them to establish a CBDO, which would then have preferential access to development finance.”

The Forums and CBDOs cannot try to do everything. As our Commission report found, “Public and community works should be organized through local government and CBDOs in the long term, and in the short term through NGOs and parastatals (respectively, non- governmental organizations and government-affiliated agencies—ed.) working through CBDOs.”

We will especially want to encourage the social-change NGOs to continue assisting our civics and Forums in meeting RDP goals, by helping to provide the needed delivery capacity which government will help fund. As Cronin and Naidoo put it, “While democratically elected local government structures will have ultimate responsibility for the delivery of much local development resources and projects, local development Forums and their CBDOs must also assume a real role.”

Our upcoming SANCO congress will allow us to explore these issues. Each of SANCO’s regions should be prepared to contribute to the national debate about how we take the RDP forward. This means that at our regional conferences, we must have workshops on the RDP and on Making People-Driven Development Work.

SANCO as RDP Watchdog

In addition, we must begin an earnest attempt to watchdog the implementation of the RDP For example, it is becoming clear that the status quo may prevail in areas such as housing policy where the deal between ex-Minister Shill and the National Housing Forum is taking precedence over the RDE SANCO has always argued against a site-and-service approach (as opposed to massive subsidized new housing construction—ed.), but that is apparently what Comrade Slovo (Joe Slovo, longtime Communist Party leader and new Housing Minister—ed.) has inherited. In my view, SAW should argue strongly for an increase in subsidies, to as high as25 000 rands for the very poor, double the subsidy amount that the government is inheriting. That is the minimum that our homeless comrades in informal settlements or overcrowded matchbox houses require to gain access to a decent home.

We still say, however, that while people have a right to housing, they still must pay a reasonable amount that is affordable, which is roughly 20% of their income. If this is accepted, then it should be possible to provide everyone in South Africa with decent housing at a cost which is well within the RDP estimate of five percent of the budget devoted to housing.

In addition, SANCO argued that the subsidies not be subject to speculation, so that the beneficiaries cannot simply sell their plot to a middle-class person and then still be left homeless. We agree with the RDP that the subsidies must be subject to “time limits on resale, or compulsory repayment of subsidies upon transfer of property.” But unfortunately the inherited housing policy makes no provision for this. If Shill’s plan is adopted, there is the strong likelihood that the low-income housing crisis will continue as speculators, slumlords and downward-raiding become common. Instead, collective ownership and cooperatives are a better route to channel housing subsidies, and are much more consistent with the RDP than what we are now inheriting.

In addition, we must watch carefully so that our SANCO- originated RDP programs are not disempowered. For example, the banks have been able to manipulate the debate over a mortgage insurance scheme which guarantees them against losses that occur when our civic comrades are able to block evictions. The mortgage insurance scheme that may be adopted by the government fails to include what the RDP promises: an approach favoring the consumer; full coverage for unemployment; and from the banks, commitments to end redlining, to lower interest rates (since risks are lower) and to increase their lending to the scale we require.

And on another issue SANCO has pushed–a Community Reinvestment Act to prohibit discrimination in lending (sometimes called “redlining”)—we are faced with attempts to weaken our program. Naturally, the banks do not want to be penalized when they are found to be guilty of redlining. Instead we may merely be left with disclosure of where they make their loans, but no substantial penalties (such as higher interests rates when borrowing from the Reserve Bank) which would make it costly for the banks to discriminate.

We will insist that the strongest possible measures are taken against the banks when they are found guilty—we are not naive enough to think that simply by making it illegal to discriminate on the basis of race, gender, geographical location, etc., that the banks will end this widespread practice. A new spirit of social responsibility must pervade.

Some will claim that the banks are not lending because of bond boycotts. This is nonsense, since the only active boycotts I am aware of are against the South African Housing Trust on grounds that their houses were so poorly constructed. At this stage we do not favor boycotts of any kind as a tactic, although we understand why communities see boycotts as a last resort. However, we now have many more constructive vehicles to take forward complaints about bad construction, unemployment and violence which lead to housing default, high interest rates, and so forth.

The RDP also calls for the establishment of a national housing bank, which should be backed by guarantees for pension fund and other investors. Through our Commission on Development Finance, SANCO offered proposals on how this bank can make retail loans to NGOs and CBDOs, and I am intent on seeing this through with our new Housing Minister, Comrade Joe Slovo. This housing bank is crucial because the banks are not performing—although this does not leave them off the hook.

In addition, I will strongly advocate that we develop a more active policy on the “transfer of housing,” so that the many old state-owned matchbox houses are given to people who have lived there for many years. But I suggest that we do this in a way that first allows our people an extra subsidy so they can make their old, inadequate matchboxes more humane places to live, and that second ensures that the subsidies can be recovered by government or community housing associations if the house is sold. We must make some attempt to carry out large-scale valuations to see which areas require relatively more attention and higher subsidies. All houses that are transferred or built under the RDP must be well-constructed and all shoddy defects repaired.

What about the costs? The RDP makes provision for a large amount of money to go to housing—five percent of the budget by 1999, which is four times the amount that Minister Shill spent last year. So I am not worried that we have given housing and community development the priority it deserves in the RDP But nevertheless, there will be a fight over the budget when itis tabled on 22 June, and I will be at the forefront of defending SANCO’s interests in seeing money channelled to development rather than military expenditures.

However, in all these areas, I am very worried that the weight of apartheid will remain on our shoulders.

There are a good many bureaucrats and old-style politicians in Cape Town and Pretoria who say they are committed to the RDP but at the same time who undermine it, particularly in areas where SANCO had influence. SANCO helped to fashion the housing policy, for example, and while this is now officially ANC policy, we are left with the harsh reality that the bureaucrats, vested interests and lack of public inputs into the process may now sabotage our program.

In addition, we have the added challenge of making local government more responsive. Our goal is to make local government fully democratic at the earliest opportunity, to have free and fair elections and corruption-free voter rolls, and to make local government more developmental. Local government should be a strong instrument of RDP implementation, next to organs of civil society.

A Way Forward for SANCO and Parliament

How do we combat these threats to SANCO’s interests? How do we keep the traditional strong relations between civics and progressive politicians, so that civic interests continue to be represented?

My view is that comrades who have been loaned from the civic movement to national and provincial parliament should not only go to parliament, but should retain some positions within SANCO. I would see our SANCO comrades in government not as office-bearers, but as ex-officio executive members. That way we have a direct line from the grassroots into the legislature, and in some provinces into the executive committee.

So my proposal is that SANCO regions recall and retain their comrades who are also in the parliaments, and demand of them solidarity, accountability and cooperation, by requesting that they be ex-officio members of the SANCO provincial executive. The same would be true for SANCO at national and local levels. As parliamentarians, we must see ourselves as representatives of the masses of people, and use that platform as a way to highlight the struggles of people on the ground for the betterment of their living conditions.

It is by forging these links that the RDP will be implemented in the manner that SANCO requested in our discussions with the ANC last November. It is by continually renewing our links with the grassroots that parliamentarians will not slip into the mode of bourgeois politics. As a result, the RDP will have a much more solid constituency which can understand and negotiate on concrete policy proposals. And this will also help us bring the RDP to all our SANCO cadres.

The result will be that in each community, we will play a leading role in energizing all of our people to take the RDP into every street and home, and with it, achieving the most fundamental objectives of our liberation struggle In this way, we will never, never permit the emergence of the brutal oppression and exploitation which was characteristic of apartheid society.

July-August 1994, ATC 51