n Journal of Public Administration - State attributes : South Africa as a declaratory developmental state through diktat?

Volume 50 Number 3
  • ISSN : 0036-0767



South Africa a developmental state? South Africa has since the dawn of democracy in 1994, and the assumption of power of the African National-led government, struggled to come up with a unique and workable state-led development model that would help it to confront the legacies of apartheid. By 2004, one decade into the post-apartheid era, it began to play with the idea of transforming the Republic into a developmental state, and this debate drew much fascination and interest. Having learnt some tough lessons from its GEAR experience, and public reactions to this contentious trajectory, the Mbeki government approached its second term with confidence, and wasted little time in introducing one of the most important debates in post-apartheid South Africa, the idea that South Africa wished to become a developmental state. Henceforth, the Republic would embark on a new developmental path, one that would seek to openly challenge the Washington consensus, and to bring the state firmly back in. It would start the long and painstaking process of transforming South Africa into a developmental state, (led by the African National Congress). This intention has since been reflected in speeches and communiqués by top government officials. Government hoped to transcend the sterile capitalism-vs-socialism debate with the introduction of this new development path. It would learn lessons from the experiences of the East-Asian Tigers of the 1960s and 1970s, as opposed to the obsession with Western development experiences and models.

It was in his 2004 that President Thabo Mbeki declared these government intentions. Determined to overcome apartheid's devastating legacies, and convinced that to pursue a developmental path as a means of realising this strategic goal, Mbeki declared that government had crafted a new "comprehensive programme to grow the economy". Having depicted South Africa as a country of "two economies" and "two races", with one of these racialised economies being largely poor and black, and the other predominantly white and prosperous, Mbeki vowed that his government would pursue "interventions in both the first and second economies". The Jacob Zuma government has now appropriated the idea of South Africa as a "capable developmental state" and has hinged all its bets on the much-vaunted National Development Plan (NDP). The question that remains is when the South African government can move beyond stated policy and rhetoric and focus on the hard-nosed business of process and institution-building as it seeks to become this capable developmental state. South Africa may soon learn that a developmental state is not one that comes about through declarations, fiats and diktats. Instead, it is the result of a long, drawn out process that comes about through following meticulous benchmarks and criteria that need constant cementing and re-cementing.

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