n Journal of Public Administration - Public service delivery challenges facing the South African public service

Volume 44, Issue 2
  • ISSN : 0036-0767



Two decades after the advent of a new and democratic South Africa, the exuberance that marked the dawn of a new South Africa has been replaced by growing signs of despair regarding the inability of government to provide the services that the majority of the people waited for. Whilst government has performed far much better than the pre 1994 government, poverty, poor health services, acute shortage of housing, falling education standards, etc still dog the post 1994 government. Shortage of skills has been blamed for the slow pace of service delivery, poor quality of services being rendered, etc. But whilst the shortage of skills does occupy a central position in the delivery of public service, skills shortage alone cannot however explain public service delivery inertia, other factors such as corruption, nepotism, interference in the day to day management and administration of departments by political principals, such as ministers and MECs, the Weberian organisational structures of departments, etc must also be considered. These issues must also be urgently addressed if the public service is to improve its public service delivery record.

The slavish focus on skills shortage alone will not necessarily lead to improved performance. Indeed some of the worst performers in the public service are people with impressive skills. The problem is, however, not that the country suffers a shortage of skills, but also that it suffers from the shortage of quality skills. The quality of matriculants and graduates from tertiary institutions has declined to the extent that some private sector industries are not willing to employ graduates from some universities. But the decline in the quality of skills cuts across almost all tertiary institutions. Improving public service delivery will also depend on the quality of skills of those employed to provide public services. Finally it is important to note that some services will not be provided within the foreseeable future because of resource constraints, for the public expectations always surpass national resources. More importantly also is the fact that some of the expectations cannot be achieved within the contours of a capitalist society such as South Africa, for socialist demands are not compatible with the logic and the laws that govern the essence and motion of capitalism. Improving public service delivery records will therefore require a multifaceted approach, for improving skills alone will not necessarily lead to the improvement in the performance of the public service.

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