Review: Building a Capable State: Service Delivery in Post-Apartheid South Africa

Programme Type: Publishing Programme:

During apartheid, South Africa built local administrations that delivered social services at First World levels to the small white minority, even as they ignored the large black majority. The challenge after apartheid ended, in 1994, was to extend the same quality and quantity of services to the entire population. This lucid and detailed review of local administrations since then argues that they have made a great deal of progress in housing, public transportation, and sanitation. (Local governments are not responsible for education and health, so the authors pay little attention to those areas.) The book depicts an impressive level of pragmatism, dedication, and vision among the decision-makers who achieved this progress. But, the authors argue, officials have not done enough to address major problems of racial and geographic inequality. And the authors’ overall optimism is tempered by their worries about the corruption of President Jacob Zuma’s administration; completing this unfinished agenda is now up to Zuma’s successor, Cyril Ramaphosa.

This review was published in the May/June Issues of Foreign Affairs by Nicholas van de Walle.