Representative Bureaucracy in the South African Public Service

Journal Article


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Journal Title

African Journal of Public Affairs

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African Consortium of Public Administration


University of Cape Town

The research question of this article is to examine the extent to which the South African public service conforms to the concept of representative bureaucracy. A representative bureaucracy is understood to be one that consists of a workforce that reflects the composition of the citizens of the country. Furthermore it is held that if a public service reflects the diversity of the society within which it functions, then it is more likely to be responsive to all the diverse interests and make policy that reflects this. Data on race, and gender up to 2010 was obtained from the Department of Public Service and Administration’s PERSAL data base. The methodology used was that of a longitudinal study of affirmative action data across four time periods, namely 1995, 2000, 2005 and 2010. The data shows that the democratic aims of representative bureaucracy have largely been fulfilled in respect of race and gender although there were certain distinctive findings: ● Blacks are underrepresented at senior management level; ● Whites are overrepresented at senior management level; ● Females are overrepresented in public service in relation to workforce; ● Females are underrepresented at senior management level; ● Whites are underrepresented at lower levels of public service. Has a representative bureaucracy led to better service delivery? The evidence is mixed at best. There is general consensus that there are poor skills levels in the public service albeit co-existing with pockets of excellence. More systematic research is needed to examine this relationship.