Changing Conceptions of Public ‘Management’ and Public Sector Reform in South Africa

Journal Article


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International Public Management Review

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International Public Management Network


University of Cape Town

South Africa’s political transition to democratic rule was the catalyst for ambitious public sector reform efforts, which sought to restructure the organisational and personnel profile of the state. A key aim of this process was to enhance the state’s management capacity to steer a far-reaching socio-economic policy agenda, which drew on the principles and tools of comparative public management practice as it had evolved globally and intellectually. This article examines how South Africa’s policy commitment to management reform can be characterised in comparative terms, and twenty years on, assess if and how this commitment has materialised in practice. I will argue that the South African case exhibits a confusing and directionless mix of traditional management control and unconsummated NPM advocacy. Although this is generally consistent with NPM practice in developing countries, I will propose that there are at least three specific elements that lend texture to the South African case, namely, capacity, commitment and capture.