South African’s National Liberation Movement

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National Conference​

Discussion Documents

The core values of the RDP

1 July 1997

The ANC will, in the coming months, convene a major, pre-conference, policy summit. At this policy summit we will investigate further our specific policies on a range of areas from housing and health to jobs, economic growth, and safety and security. The purpose of this paper is not to elaborate upon specific areas of policy, all of which are related to the Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP). In this paper we seek to reaffirm and elaborate the underlying, core values of the RDP. If we lose sight of these underlying core values we can easily lose our way under the pressures of events, or in the mass of technical details which we have to master.


The ANC contested the April 1994 elections on the basis of a vision of “A Better Life for All”. The outlines of, and the strategic path towards, this better life were elaborated in general terms in the RDP.

The RDP itself emerged from an extensive process, rooted in the participatory traditions of the Freedom Charter. These traditions were taken up with growing intensity in a series of conferences, workshops and policy-making forums led by the ANC in the late 1980s and the first half of the 1990s. The RDP also benefited from, and became popularised through people`s forums during the election campaign in 1993/94.

“The Reconstruction and Development Programme. A Policy Framework” with which we contested the 1994 elections (sometimes referred to as the RDP “base document”) was at once a great deal more than a vague list of election promises, and less than a fully elaborated programme of governance. Its broad vision and its fundamental approach to reconstruction and development remain valid. But it is not a detailed blue-print. It correctly describes itself as “a policy framework”. We knew from the outset that the base document would need a great deal of elaboration in detail. Many areas are barely touched upon, many problems and challenges were only partly understood back in 1994.


The core vision of the RDP lies in the values and methods it proposes to achieve our national democratic transformation tasks in the conditions of our present national, regional and global circumstances. The RDP has four areas of principle concern:

  • meeting basic needs;
  • developing human resources;
  • building the economy;
  • democratising the state and society.

To tackle transformation on all these fronts, a programme is needed that is:

  • people-centred;
  • people-driven;
  • innovative in the ways in which it combines growth and development;
  • committed to continuously achieving overall coherence and unity of purpose.

These values and methods constitute the core vision of the RDP. The paper will now look more closely at each of these values and methods:

A People-Centred Approach

The RDP`s starting point is to understand the all-round and deep seated crisis into which centuries of colonialism and decades of apartheid have plunged our society. Every aspect of our country ­ our political institutions, our economy, social life, the very moral fabric of our communities ­ has been deeply affected by the legacy of this past.

The RDP anchors itself in meeting human needs. In other words, it is self-consciously people-centred. These are not just “nice” phrases, but a very important starting point. The RDP is not rooted, in the first place, in this or that political or economic ideology ­ it submits all such ideologies to the practical litmus test of meeting the fundamental human needs of our society.

The RDP asks to be judged in terms of its capacity to provide jobs, shelter, safe water, health-care, nutrition, relevant education, and safety and security to the people of South Africa. All other ideological considerations (for instance, socialism or the “free market”?), and all other technical considerations (for instance, optimal annual growth rates, or budget deficit reduction targets) are secondary to the overriding concern of meeting human needs, in a sustainable manner. In taking its stand on a people-centred approach, the RDP is not underrating the importance of technical competence, or budgetary discipline, nor does it undervalue the great importance of ideological debate, and the potential opportunities and risks of choosing one or another perspective. But the RDP refuses to lock itself into either preconceived technical or ideological dogma.

A People-Driven Approach

The RDP is not just people-centred, it also advances a people-driven approach. Once more, this seemingly simple assertion carries with it profound implications. In the first place, the people-driven approach reaffirms the traditions and experience of the ANC. The ANC is not just a party of mass support, it is a movement of mass participation.

Now that we are in government there are new challenges to these traditions. They include the challenge of ensuring that we transform government into an open and transparent process. This objective is valuable in its own right, but it is also the only way to ensure that the people in our country are able to understand and interact effectively with government.

A people-driven approach is also in line with emerging international progressive perspectives on sustainable development and governance. Top-down, administrative command systems have, over this past century, succeeded in opening up, for a time, important development in some developing countries. However, they have been associated with bureaucratic problems, often human rights abuses, the destruction of the environment, and the restriction of progressive civil society participation. Many of these systems have either collapsed or stagnated, and others are meeting increased popular resistance.

The RDP`s people-driven approach should also be seen as part of a broader African Renaissance, spearheaded by popular movements in many countries of our continent. It is a renaissance in which economic development, popular participation and respect for human rights are seen as part and parcel of the same process. In many countries, this renaissance is a rejection of both inefficient, and sometimes corrupt, post-colonial bureaucracies, and of the absolute hegemony of technical programmes of structural adjustment imposed by imperialist countries and institutions.

The RDP people-driven approach is not an attempt to avoid the responsibilities that we have for governing. But it is a recognition that being the overwhelming majority party in national government does not mean that the ANC has “all power”. Without the combination of effective government and the mobilisation of millions of South Africans, the tasks of transformation will be impossible. The transformation of government itself requires an effort from both within and without our government institutions.

The people-driven approach of the RDP recognises that one of the paralysing legacies of apartheid colonialism is the de-humanisation of many of our people. A passive expectation of “delivery from on high” is itself part of the apartheid legacy, the perpetuation of a victim mentality. The idea that the “world now owes me a favour because I was a victim of apartheid oppression” may well be understandable, but it simply confirms and continues a cycle of dependency.

We were able to defeat the apartheid regime because we were able to help organise and mobilise the majority, helping them to transform themselves from victims to being their own emancipators. The same principles, the same basic vision must apply in the ongoing struggle to overcome the all-round legacy of national oppression.

Where we fail to take the people-driven approach, we often play directly into the hands of those who seek to sink the RDP. These are the forces which, while continuing to retain very significant powers and privileges, are happy to see the ANC in government single-handedly carry all the responsibility for “delivery”. Rather than seeing the aspirations of the majority of our people as “illegitimate”, as “unrealistic”, as a “threat to stability” ­ we need to see these aspirations as the motive force for ongoing transformation. But we are not arguing for populism. The aspirations of the majority now, as in the past, need to be organised, given strategic purpose, and located within a broad social vision.

In other words, to lay stress on the people-driven approach is to underline the importance of the ANC as an effective, mass-based, grass-roots formation. It is also to lay stress on our alliance, and on the need for a vibrant mass democratic movement and broader, progressive civil society formations.

Growth and Development

All of the above connects decisively to the profound linkage that the RDP envisages between reconstruction and development. In making this linkage, the RDP very self-consciously breaks with alternative views. As paragraph 1.3.6 of the RDP base document succinctly notes of this linkage:

This is in contrast to a commonly held view that growth and development, or growth and redistribution are processes that contradict each other. Growth ­ the measurable increase in the output of the modern industrial economy ­ is commonly seen as the priority that must precede development. Development is portrayed as a marginal effort of redistribution to areas of urban and rural poverty. In this view, development is a deduction from growth. The RDP breaks decisively with this approach. If growth is defined as an increase in output, then it is of course a basic goal. However, where that growth occurs, how sustainable it is, how it is distributed, the degree to which it contributes to building long-term productive capacity and human resource development, and what impact it has on the environment, are the crucial questions when considering reconstruction and development. The RDP integrates growth, development, reconstruction and redistribution into a unified programme.

In other words, the RDP base document insists that economic growth must be interrelated with the qualitative improvement in people`s lives.

A Coherent and Integrated Programme

This underlines the importance of the final core RDP value which, at this time, needs to be constantly reaffirmed. The RDP will only succeed if it is able to become a relatively coherent and integrated programme. The crisis of our society cannot be resolved piece-meal or by way of short-cuts.

This general observation underlines a number of key issues:

  • at a governmental level we have battled, for many obvious reasons, to maintain the coherence of our efforts. We have discussed this challenge and the solutions to it within the ANC in an ongoing way, including at the January 1997 NEC lekgotla. The restructuring of government RDP co-ordination, the clustering of ministries to prevent narrow departmentalisation, and proposals for a policy coordination planning unit in the presidency are all part and parcel of this ongoing effort to ensure a coherent governmental approach to reconstruction and development;
  • coherence is required not just at the national level, but also across all three spheres of governance (national, provincial and local). It is here that our pioneering ideas on co-operative governance have special relevance;
  • since the RDP is more than a government “delivery” programme, the coherence of our effort has to be ensured from within and beyond government, in broader civil society. It is here that the rebuilding of the ANC becomes absolutely central ­ this rebuilding needs to focus on the organisational, mobilisational and policy-making capacities of our organisation;
  • reconstruction and development within South Africa will not be sustainable unless it is part and parcel of the broader reconstruction and development of Southern Africa. It is in this context that our ongoing political, economic and trade interaction with our region needs to be understood. It is also within this framework that major developmental programmes like the Maputo Corridor must be appreciated.


When the RDP base document was first unveiled early in 1994 it met with a very hostile, or at best a patronising, reception from our opponents. It was declared to be “naive”, “an impossible wish list”, and an “attempt to be all things to everyone”. After the April 1994 elections, in the face of an overwhelming ANC electoral majority and with the RDP now official government policy, some of these same forces attempted to kill the RDP with kindness.

Opportunistic elements declared themselves to be the RDP`s only hope of delivery, as they manoeuvred to obtain what they imagined would be lucrative government “RDP” contracts. They actively sought to re-define the content of the RDP to suit their own objectives. Not all of this was necessarily a bad thing. From the outset, it was clear that the RDP would require the active participation of the private sector for reconstruction and development. But the RDP was never a simple “market-driven” programme. Apart from self-serving “kindness”, the RDP has also continued to be the target of a more openly hostile campaign to sink it. This campaign has been conducted on a number of fronts:

On the one hand, there has been a “where is your delivery?” campaign. The RDP base document is reduced to a few statistical targets (one million houses in five years, for instance), and declared “a failure” because we are behind in regard to this or that target. Those who have plunged our country into its present crisis through decades of misrule, and those who continue to retain immense economic power in our country, are usually those who shout loudest about the “failure to deliver” ­ as if the RDP were no more than a numbers game.

Another continuous threat to the RDP lies in narrow sectoral, or single-issue campaigns that seek to undermine the broader coherence of what we are trying to do. Hysteria around crime, consciously or unconsciously, often leads to attempts to erode the human rights culture that is integral to overall reconstruction and development. Panic about a falling rand is deliberately fanned and then used in attempts to divert us from our broader projects. This is not to say that we can be complacent about either crime or the value of the rand.

There have also been attempts to marginalise the RDP institutionally. When there was still an RDP Office in the Presidency, there was a continuous attempt to portray this Office as “the RDP”. In other words, despite what was continuously asserted by the ANC-led government, there was an attempt to confine the RDP to a ministry without portfolio, and to confine the budgetary resources of the RDP to the special RDP fund, a tiny fraction of the overall budget. The RDP was in danger of being a few hundred projects ­ as important as many of these were ­ and not the overall policy framework of government.

When the RDP Office was closed and responsibility for the governmental co-ordination of the RDP was restructured, the opponents of the RDP claimed the “RDP was dead”.

Every other opportunity has been seized upon to pronounce the RDP “dead”. In particular, government`s macro-economic policy, GEAR, is commonly portrayed as the final death blow to the RDP. This is asserted notwithstanding the very clear statement, in GEAR itself, that it seeks to be a macro-economic framework for and not against the RDP.

The extent to which GEAR is, in practice, supportive of RDP objectives is the subject of extensive debate within the ANC-led tripartite alliance, and also more widely within progressive circles. This is a debate that should be encouraged, but it should also be noted that, at least within the alliance, no-one is calling into question the core values of the RDP. The macro-economic debate is, essentially, about how to achieve RDP objectives in a sustainable way. We fall into the trap of our own opponents when, from one or the other side, we present the intra-alliance debate as being between pro- and anti-RDP positions.

It should not be surprising that the RDP, a vast national democratic programme of political, social and economic transformation, should meet with opposition. Its redistributive and developmental approach threatens the short-term powers and privileges of many of those who benefited from the apartheid past.

Unfortunately, however, the campaigns directed against the RDP have had a real impact upon the morale of some progressive circles. Some progressive forces believe, in good faith, that the RDP is dead, that the closure of the RDP Office was the death certificate and the adoption of GEAR the funeral rites.

We need, as an ANC, to ask ourselves to what extent we have contributed to these relatively widespread impressions. Did we act energetically and transparently to explain the pro-RDP reasons for relocation of the overall governmental co-ordination of the RDP? Had we thought through this co-ordination sufficiently at the time of this relocation? Have we devoted sufficient resources to elaborating and explaining what we are attempting to do in terms of macro-economic policy?

To what extent have we, ourselves, fallen into the delivery numbers game, allowing ourselves to be measured narrowly according to what could only have been very generalised objectives elaborated in 1994? To counter the anti-RDP campaign, and to counter any demoralisation that there might be about the continuing relevance of the RDP, it has become crucial to to reaffirm the core values contained in the RDP with which we fought and won the elections of 1994.


The RDP “base document” was a policy framework, not a blue-print, not a sacred text whose every sentence has to be implemented to the letter. It is precisely this framework, these core values that remain decisively important.

We never imagined that drawing up an RDP document before elections and winning an overwhelming electoral majority were sufficient in themselves to consolidate the RDP vision for all time. The RDP strikes at the institutions, structures and social interests of those forces that have grown rich and powerful out of minority rule. While their own long-term interests may also lie in an overall reconstruction and development process, we can expect many powerful forces to campaign actively to undermine the RDP. The defence and elaboration of the RDP`s core values is part and parcel of the struggle for reconstruction and development itself.

Re-stating these general strategic, political and moral values of the RDP may seem to be “over-general”, and “vague”. Yet it is precisely the tendency to lose sight of them in the maze of technicalities and pressures of our transition that contributes to the weakening of our capacity to provide broad leadership to our organisation, our movement, and to our country at large. At our December 1997 National Conference, we need, as the ANC, to discuss, elaborate and reaffirm, loudly and clearly, the core values of our electoral mandate, the RDP.