A more than 21-year odyssey of developmental local government in South Africa

Are we on the right track?


  • Xolisile Ngumbela School of Public Management, Governance and Public Policy, College of Business and Economics, University of Johannesburg, Auckland Park, 2006, South Africa https://orcid.org/0000-0003-4704-9314




Developmental State; Developmental Local Government; Cooperative Governance; Capacity; Service Delivery; Leadership.


This paper is an assessment of 21 years of developmental local government as advocated through the 1998 White Paper on local government. In the 21st century, local governments have developed into hubs for developmental objectives. This suggests that they are now expected to go beyond the fundamentals of providing services. For instance, the agenda of local governments has automatically adopted South Africa's idea of a developmental state that primarily prioritises economic development and the need to consider the most suitable intervention scales. With the implementation of the National Development Plan (NDP) in 2012, South African authorities formalised their intention to pursue a developing state. The authorities' conviction that the developmental state approach is a factor for development is evident from reading the NDP. Because of the vertical connections between regional, sub-regional and local processes of change, strategies must be well-suited to one another, different interventions may be most effective at various spatial scales, and strategy and implementation may also be most effective at particular scales. This study used a multi-site case study as the sole type of research methodology. The study took an exploratory approach, because it constituted contextual research, allowing the researcher to investigate and record research phenomena in line with diverse participant interpretations. The study discovered that despite the ideals outlined in the 1998 White Paper, National Development Plan, and District Development Model, emphasising the influence of the local sphere as closer to citizens, and thus more responsible for their welfare and development, factors such as public participation, a lack of skills, and sub-par infrastructure delivery have negatively impacted developmental local government outcomes. In the end, local government is unable to fulfill its responsibility for development. The paper contends that local government's performance, assessed against its constitutional purposes, hinders the realisation of a progressive state in South Africa against a backdrop of local government incapacity.


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How to Cite

Ngumbela, X. (2023). A more than 21-year odyssey of developmental local government in South Africa: Are we on the right track?. International Journal of Research in Business and Social Science (2147- 4478), 12(7), 358–370. https://doi.org/10.20525/ijrbs.v12i7.2864



Interdisciplinary Studies in Humanities & Social Sciences