Speaking at the State Capability Conference hosted by Parliament recently, a senior lecturer at Wits School of Governance Dr TK Pooe cautioned that South Africa could lose its hegemonic role in the Southern African Development Community (SADC), while also arguing that South Africa is not a developmental state, but rather a fragile “quasi-state”.

Dr Pooe identified other challenges such as the rise of zombie municipalities and the lack of consequences for poor performance. However, he also mentioned that South Africa is blessed with strong institutions like the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC), Stats SA and the Auditor-General. Nonetheless, the three-tier governance system is too complex and should be revised, he believes.

Head of Department: Developmental, Capable and Ethical State at the HSRC cautioned that people’s needs must be addressed and they should also be encouraged to participate in policy-making. A capable state is an accountable state that is transparent and provides timely, accessible and accurate information.

Professor Mzukisi Qobo from the Wits Business School said South Africa lacks implementation plans. “There is a challenge in getting things done in fulfilling the targets that government sets for itself. Some of the programmes we have predated the pandemic, but government was caught unaware and underprepared by the pandemic where it had to shift much of what had planned.

“There was a slow drag in achieving some of the commitments because the capacity had to be placed elsewhere. When we thought we were coming out of the crisis, government put in place institutions to unblock and implement reforms.”

Prof Qobo identified six aspects of state capacity: refining national government and key institutions; reforming local government; macro-embedded autonomy and political principles; and designation of rural and township regions as states of disasters and new sites of spatial economic zones.

National Assembly member Mr Narend Singh welcomed their presentations and called on academics to engage with political leaders to find programmes that work. He commented that the government’s District Development Model is not a new concept, but is nonetheless a valuable one.

The Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma said her department is in the process of undertaking a 21-year-review of local government and that academic input on the review would be welcome.

In conclusion, Dr Pooe said South Africa needs to rethink its public policy and its implementation. “One cannot have a good policy without a good implementation plan; that is nonsensical. Policies are too theoretical and do not think about implementation. It is important to think about how you will evaluate when thinking these policies.”

Sibongile Maputi
9 May 2022