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Prospects for the Development of South Africa

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Table of contents

  1. South Africa and Apartheid
  2. Post-democratic breakthrough South Africa
  3. External Factors Impacting South Africa’s Developmental Objectives
  4. Internal Factors Impacting South Africa’s Developmental Goals
  5. Existing Recourse/Strategies Used to Overcome these Obstacles
  6. Conclusion

“Great lines of patient people snaking through the dirt roads of towns and cities, old women who had waited half a century to cast their vote, saying they had felt like human beings for the first time in their lives, White men and women saying they were proud to live in a free country at last…, it was as though we were a nation reborn” – Nelson Mandela, ‘Long Walk to Freedom’.

The inauguration of South Africa’s democracy, 25 years ago, brought about with it the promises of a better future for everyone. The 1994 democratic elections, saw the African National Congress (ANC) winning by a 62 percent vote margin against the National Party that only garnered 20 percent of the total vote (Brynes, 1996:167). This was a long awaited victory by the millions of marginalized South Africans, who were oppressed along a racial divide that benefitted the white minorities under the apartheid banner (Gillomee, Myburgh and Schlemmer, 2001:166). Key and urgent on the new dispensation government, was the repealing and undoing the negative influences and impact of the apartheid policies, towards an all inclusive developmental objective (Michie and Padayachee, 1998:623).

The Medium-Term Strategic Framework breaks the 2030 National Development Plan (NDP) down into a five-year span from 2014 to 2019, with targets, roles and timeframes (Anyanwu, 2014:468). According to Krukowska (2019:105) there are 14 outcomes that focus on aspects such as rural development, land reform, job creation, inclusive growth and social services. In 2014 the government announced Operation Phakisa, an economic development programmes designed to fast-track NDP implementation. However, Vickers (2012:538) argues that these objective although theoretically feasible are still yet to be attained in South Africa, more than 20 years later into her young democracy and the impetus of this body of work, is to identify both the internal and external factors that have impeded the achievement of this fundamental objective and explore possible solutions towards a recourse that can assist South Africa overcome these negative influences.

Notably, by first understanding South Africa under the vice of the apartheid regime can we be able to begin to unpack these existing factors that have indelible halted and derailed the goals set forth, those many years ago, when South Africa first had her taste of democracy.

South Africa and Apartheid

The system in South Africa (Apartheid) that racially segregated and discriminated the blacks in favor of uplifting the political and economic dominance that catered for the white minority was initially formalized in 1948 (Tempelhoff, 2017:189). According to (Leibbrandt, Woolard and Woolard, 2007:1), South Africa has a long and infamous history of high inequality with an overbearing racial footprint to this inequality. The segregationist policies that were enforced on the marginalized black majorities of South Africa, were the epitome of this period of time with limited interaction and contact between the whites and blacks (Breetzke, 2012:297). Lemon and Battersby-Lennard (2009:532) points out that it took over 50 years for these policies to be repealed even under serious opposition from relevant stakeholders. Notably, many have seen the emergence and persistence of this inequality to be the major unifying theme of the country’s twentieth century economic history. Importantly, the question of inequality has continued to take precedence in the new dispensation landscape, as the current ruling government, the African National Congress (ANC) battles to mitigate these long lasting and reaching negative legacies (Christopher, 2001:450). Certainly, this is the key context to understanding why the issue of inequality has continued to dominate the post-apartheid landscape. There are two indicators of the post-apartheid political economy that have attracted special attention in this regard. The first is whether the evolving character of the post-apartheid economy and the policy efforts of the post-apartheid government have been able to start to lower these very high aggregate levels of inequality. Then, there is the related question of the composition of this inequality; specifically, whether the blunt racial footprint undergirding this inequality would start to grey and be replaced by new social strata and subtler socioeconomic dynamics.

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Post-democratic breakthrough South Africa

The transition from apartheid to democracy is the most important turning point in South Africa’s history (Gibson, 2006:90). Tomaselli (2000:247) points out that the end of the apartheid regime in 1994 for the people of South Africa, marked the beginning of a better prospective future for all within the social and economic context. Christopher Sauder’s in his book chapter titled ‘Negotiation, Transition and Freedom – the Transition in Context’ argues that the Interim Constitution of 1993, which took effect at the time of the first democratic election on 27 April, 1994 (Lodge, 1995:498), perhaps underscores clearly the gross violations that existed prior to South Africa gaining her democracy (Gibson, 2002:548). Importantly, one of the key socio-economic objective that was identified, was the reduction and eradication of abject poverty in the country and electrification for all (Binns and Nel, 2000:23). This presented the South African people, with a tangible affirmation of the existence of a past that was never to be forgotten and at the same time illuminated the rise and recognition recognition of human rights, democracy and peaceful co-existence and development opportunities for all South Africans, irrespective of colour, race, class, belief or sex (Harrison, Todes and Watson, 2007:424). In his 2019 State of the Nation Address, President Cyril Ramaphosa, reaffirmed the governments priorities post apartheid, that included job creation and economic transformation, reliable and quality basic services, spatial integration, social cohesion among other goals (Ramaphosa, 2019:53). One can argue, that South Africa has been well away to creating the perfect Utopian society devoid of all the dystopian analogies of a previous repression regime, However the reality is the total opposite, as many factors both internal and external played a critical role in derailing the envisaged goals and objectives set by the newly democratically elected ANC government, as discussed below.

External Factors Impacting South Africa’s Developmental Objectives

The 2010 initiatives laid out in the National Planning Commission and the 2030 National Development Plan (NDP), identified the reduction of inequality, job creation, and inclusive growth for all as key developmental goals for the South African economy (Chilenga, 2017:100). To put things in perspective, the government identified the reduction of unemployment by creating 11 million new job opportunities by 2030 there by reducing the unemployment rate all the way down to about 6 percent (Anyawu, 2014:301). However, the external factors have played a significant role in delaying and negatively impaction on these set objectives and goals. New political legislations play a critical role in impacting the developmental objectives of the country (Swyngedouw, Moulaert and Rodriguez, 2002:550). Policies that benefit or affect the general populace take longer to be passed due to the differing influences of the existing active political parties within the South African government (Dalton, 2013:67). Additionally, economic downturns and increasing levels of unemployment caused by a myriad of pressures also negatively affect the set goals and objectives (Binns and Nel, 2002:21). Notably, the 2019 novel coronavirus disease pandemic (COVID-19) and the subsequent national lockdown restrictions played a critical role in pushing back the developmental objectives of South Africa (Arndt, Davies, Gabriel, Harris, Makrelov, Robinson and Anderson, 2020:100410). The existing inequalities in the education sector continues to be a critical challenge in the development of the country. Furthermore, continued high poverty rates throughout the continent threaten to throttle the developmental goals set by the ruling ANC government, with more and more people falling deeper and deeper into abject poverty each day (Shabaya and Konadu, 2004:421). Lastly, climate change has created food insecurities and critically affected the countries developmental objectives (Schipper and Pelling, 2006:33).

Internal Factors Impacting South Africa’s Developmental Goals

The biggest internal factor impacting South Africa’s developmental goal, is rampart brazen corruption and bad governance (Doig and Riley, 1998:62). Pillay (2004:301) argues that the outrageous levels of corruption in the country continues to critical push back the developmental goals set and threatens to throw South Africa, deeper into poverty and economic stagnation. The uneven labor markets that still benefits the selected minority groups at the expense of the marginalized majorities also play a significant role in impacting the development of the country. Fundamentally, it must be understood and pointed out the previous apartheid policies, specifically identified and divided the labor market to benefit the white minority, this left a lasting legacy that still exists up to date, as key economic drivers are still controlled and run by the minority groups in South Africa. Importantly, there is existing evidence that implicates the internal factors that surrounds foreign direct investment, as playing a significant role in the development of South Africa (Moosa and Cardak, 2006:211). Furthermore, Simmons, Dobbin and Garrett (2012:799) contends that policies that underpin these FDI’s in many instances do little to improve on the set developmental goals but rather impact these goals in an incrementally negative manner. The abiding legacies of the previous apartheid policies also plays a significant role in contributing to the internal challenges that continuously affect the country. Additionally, income and consumption distribution are notably unequal. South Africa’s GINI coefficient, a measure of income inequality, is consistently highest or among the highest globally (Moosa and Cardak, 2006:211). There are also continues to be a significant regional, rural-urban, and racial socioeconomic and infrastructure disparities, that also add to the myriad of internal issues that impact the developmental goals that were set by the current ruling ANC led government.

Existing Recourse/Strategies Used to Overcome these Obstacles

There is no denying the fact that unless something drastic is done South Africa will continue to face severe challenges in relation to their developmental goals (Lemon and Battersby-Lennard, 2009:523). The vicissitudes of apartheid can be measured by the ratio of black income to white and the failure by the first South African democratically elected party (ANC) to deliver and meet these set developmental objectives, more than 20 years after into her young democracy, has led to increased civic unrest and a gradual decline of the ruling party’s popularity in favor of the emerging Julius Malema, Economic Freedom Front (EFF). The devastating impact and implications of any civic unrest (boycotts, strikes, stay-ins) on the development of any economy cannot be overstated, and the best way of working towards achieving any set objective, is through understanding the importance of adequate and improved service delivery to the marginalized people who need the services the most. Mulberry (2014:216) argues that the provision of quality and adequate service delivery plays a fundamental role in creating an environment that encourages overall growth. Furthermore, in its draft policy on a framework for considering market-based instruments to support environmental fiscal reform in South Africa, the National Treasury notes that: “As the South African economy continues to develop, it is increasingly important to ensure that it does so in a sustainable way and that, at the same time, issues of poverty and inequality are effectively addressed. It is, therefore, important to appreciate that it’s not just the quantity of growth that matters, but also its quality”.

Webster and Adler (1999:351) argues that in light of the above assertion, the democratic agenda of 1994, that sought to encourage economic advancements and an inclusive society that upheld the social rights of all, is still an elusive reality for the millions of South Africans. As the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) recently acknowledged with its recommendations following South Africa’s first review, the government’s adoption of austerity measures now perpetuates many of the same inequalities that apartheid upheld many years ago (Govender, 2017:54). It comes then, as no mystery that South Africa has the ability and potential to redress some of these existing inequalities, by making sure that measures taken redress and not perpetuate existing legacies and work towards increasing existing social security , health and education through increased funding in those spheres of the government. A critical review of existing tax policies, towards a more equitable one that focuses more on wealth and income redistribution. One strong strategy that really is needed within the South African situation is the combating of illicit cash flows and tax invasions that exists in the illegal and parallel markets, as well as a more responsive value added tax measure. Adopting a stronger human rights-based approach to fiscal policy making and making provision for additional strategies that cater for beneficial increases in allocations that address disparities in education and healthcare, as well as to improve accessibility to these basic services.


This literature body of work, sought to elicit both external and internal factors that have negatively affected and impacted on South Africa’s drive towards meeting and attaining set developmental objectives and goals. These challenges must be put into context, for the country has come a long way since 1994, when the majority of its population was formally excluded from politics and its industry cut off from global trade. However, it must be noted that the extent of some of the factors that impede on South Africa’s growth are deeply ingrained in the legacies of the now eradicated apartheid regime and 20 years into her democracy, the failure to resets these existing and lasting legacies has continued to adversely deter the South African drive towards meeting its set objectives and goals. This is because apartheid was sought by those economically threatened by the synergies between black workers and white capitalists. The reality that plagues the developmental progress of the country can only be achieved, through a thorough and corrupt free interaction and integration of the people that the government purports to fight for, towards the realization of an objective and developmentally oriented country. This is because restructuring apartheid geographies of racial stratification and spatial segregation poses formidable challenges, as increasing intraracial inequality also continues to underscore the importance of widening access and opportunity in the post-democratic South Africa. Secondly the reduction of the unemployment levels and rate in the country through increasing infrastructure development and job creation also plays a significant role in the improvement of the countries GDP and thus drive the country towards economic growth which in turns works towards meeting set developmental goals and objectives.

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Prospects for the Development of South Africa. (2022, September 01). Edubirdie. Retrieved September 29, 2023, from
“Prospects for the Development of South Africa.” Edubirdie, 01 Sept. 2022,
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