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24 May 2010

Constructing a developmental state in SA

Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC)
Press Release

Johannesburg – The government should establish a state mining company that could deploy its resources for developmental purposes, and set up a state bank to channel resources for developmental purposes. These are some of the suggestions proposed in a new book, Constructing a Democratic Developmental State in South Africa: Potentials and challenges, edited by Omano Edigheji, the director of the Centre for Africa’s Social Progress at the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC).

It also suggests the strengthening of parliament to become a forum for building national consensus over the developmental agenda; and intervention in the banking sector to ensure that it channels resources to finance development.

This first scholarly book on the developmental state in South Africa will be launched this afternoon in Johannesburg. The Minister of Economic Development, Mr Ebrahim Patel will be the guest speaker at the launch.

The book examines how South Africa could go about building a democratic developmental state. ‘Developmental state’ is a term used by international political economy scholars to refer to the phenomenon of state-led development. A developmental state intervenes more directly in the economy through a variety of means to effect social and economic development, by among other things, promoting the growth of new industries in high value-added activities that will create jobs and deepening the productive capacity of an economy, including manufacturing. Also, it takes measures to reduce poverty and inequality.

In the introduction to the book, Edigheji points to weak government institutions in South Africa, leading to the low degree of state capacity, especially in planning and implementation. The high turnover rate of public servants, especially top civil servants, points to the absence of long-term rewarding career paths in the South African bureaucracy, and is one of the challenges facing South Africa in its attempt to construct a democratic developmental state.

To overcome the high turn-over rate of civil servants, he proposes the establishment of “a system that ensures long-term, rewarding career paths for civil servants as a necessary condition for building the organisational and technical capacities of the South African state,” In addition, he suggests that recruitment into the public service be based on merit in order to attract the best and brightest South Africans into the public sector.

The book engages with various issues relating to the question of how South Africa can become a successful developmental state and the institutional architecture and policies the country needs to achieve its developmentalist goals of growing the economy and reducing the high levels of poverty, inequality and unemployment, as well as diversifying the structure of the economy. In the book, a team of distinguished scholars explores the possibilities and pitfalls facing the country in its quest to become a democratic developmental state.

Edigheji says South Africa is well positioned to construct a democratic developmental state because of the explicit commitment by the ruling ANC-led alliance and government to build such a state. However, expressing interest in a developmental state is one thing; constructing such a state is another.

The central goal of a democratic developmental state in South Africa should be growing the country’s human capabilities through investment in health, education and social welfare expansion, as well as infrastructure development as a means of attaining equitable growth, but also as an end in itself. In this regard, economic policy, including macroeconomic policy, should be preoccupied with expanding human capabilities. In this, the service sector will be crucial to success.

“In effect, for South Africa to become a developmental state, its macroeconomic policy needs to serve social objectives, rather than social transformation being held hostage to macroeconomic policy. And to this end, social policy needs to occupy a prime place as a policy tool in the hands of the state”, he says.

The government needs to take measures to transform the structure of the economy and reduce dependence on minerals-energy, and promote green industries.
Edigheji calls for a bold and innovative approach to employment creation “beyond the tame approach” that relies on public works. In this, agrarian reform needs to be central to a new approach which should entail setting up farms where the unemployed can be recruited to work and become co-owners.

For interviews on the book, contact Dr Omano Edigheji on tel: +27 12 302 2347, cell phone: +27 82 450 6853, or e-mail:

The book, or sections thereof, can be downloaded for free, or ordered from

For further information, contact

Ina van der Linde

Media Liaison

Human Sciences Research Council

Tel 012 3022024

Cell 0823310614