n Journal of Public Administration - Legalism and the impact on public management discretion and governance in South Africa

Volume 54 Number 1
  • ISSN : 0036-0767


There has been a steady shift towards 'legalism' within public institutions and an affinity to refer accountability and service delivery concerns to courts and the broader legal community for resolution. The current legalistic trajectory in South Africa creates a separation imbalance between the rule of law, the need for accountability, and the reality of effective service delivery. Rather than facilitate substantive development transformation, numerous cases of public interest litigation have ostensibly done little more than contribute to broader jurisprudence and rights awareness. A legalistic approach towards the work of public officials constrains appreciation of the complex dynamics of delivery and the contextual factors that shape decision making and actions within public institutions. A critical analysis is provided of the broader governance consequences of specific public interest litigation cases, together with instances of legally driven assessment of the performance of public officials. Drawing from the exploration, it is advanced that the shift towards legalism creates a governance imbalance and a problematic pathway for society. It is concluded that securing deeper and less legalistic forms of state-society engagements and less legalism in the management of public institutions is essential for the creative resolution of socio-economic challenges.

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