n Journal of Public Administration - Discourse on the concept of a developmental state in South Africa : a deconstructive approach

Volume 47, Issue 1
  • ISSN : 0036-0767



Despite the fact that the commitment to position South Africa as a developmental state has been part of the strategic policy objective for the transformation of the state and governance for some time now, the discourse on the concept is enmeshed in misconceptions. It is distorted and conflated with other concepts. Much of what is bandied about as signifying a developmental state is not consistent with the authoritative scholarship on the conceptualisation of the concept. The discourse largely lacks epistemological insight. It dangerously displays little understanding of the originative historical context of the concept. The paradigm from which the discourse on a developmental state is framed is porous, so much so that the concept is used to mean anything that its users want it to mean. A few examples of misconceptions inherent in the contemporary discourse on theorising South Africa as a developmental state are that it is a 'democratic state' - where the contention is that these concepts are synonymous - or is the antithesis of democracy, a 'service delivery state' or 'soviet-type socialism'. Some go even deeper in daring to suggest that all states are developmental. This thinking provides an opportunity for intellectual opportunism stretching the discourse to the extreme by exemplifying the apartheid state as a model of a developmental state. It ventures into the realm of speculation "merely [purporting] to take an interest in objective reality while it really operates outside the object which it pretends to deal with" (Mader, 2011:420) - meaning, for the purpose of this article, contradicting the "sequence of ideas" (Marx, 1975-2005:162) that undergird the conception and evolution of a developmental state.

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