South Africa’s Architecture of Government

An Online Conference: July 5 - 7, 2022

South Africa’s current intergovernmental architecture was an important element of the country’s successful post-apartheid transition.

A broadly unitary state, South Africa nonetheless adopted some of the framework and language of a federal system. The Constitution provides for three tiers of government, national, provincial and local, although large parts of the country are effectively governed by traditional authorities operating on the basis of customary law. The state also houses some powerful metropolitan authorities, although their powers are not keeping pace with the challenges of economic development and urbanization.

While its intergovernmental (fiscal) system reflects many good practices, twenty eight years after democratic transition, the architecture of the country’s public sector is showing its limitations. In fact, some would argue that the current model does not seem to be working, as the public sector at different levels is beleaguered by inefficiency and corruption.

However, one of the successful features of multilevel governance in South Africa over the years has been the country’s willingness to question and evaluate the effectiveness of the architecture of the public sector and pursue reforms accordingly (for instance, by pursuing a broad-based amalgamation of local governments in 1996 from 1262 local government bodies into 843 local authorities).

The upcoming Architecture of Government conference (July 5-7, 2022), hosted by the Government and Public Policy think tank, explores the potential configuration of government to realize better a democratic government’s goals. The exploration of this topics in South Africa may not only be of interest to policy practitioners and scholars in South Africa, but to scholars and policy practitioners interested in intergovernmental relations worldwide.

The institutional design of the post-apartheid state was strongly influenced by models from the global North. This conference seeks other ways of organizing a system of government, drawing on experiences from other post colonial societies and elsewhere in the global South. The conference organizers approach the problems of the state from an institutional and administrative perspective and explore the appropriate configuration of government to realize a democratic government’s goals. Although institutional fixes cannot simply be borrowed from different international contexts, practical lessons can be learned about how institutions can be partially remade to serve better as instruments of a constitutional order.

Spread out over three days, the conference will be addressed by prominent international scholars, practitioners, and political leaders in the fields of governance, politics, and public policy, among them Achille Mbembe, Trevor Manuel, Angela Stent, Busani Ngcaweni, Yamini Aiyar, Hsu Huang and Omano Edigheji.

Panels discussions include:

  • Panel 1: Historical legacies and the architecture of government
  • Panel 2: Presidential and semi-presidential leadership in young democracies
  • Panel 3: Parties, states, and party-states: the case of China
  • Panel 4: Metropolitan governance in Africa
  • Panel 5: Fiscal decentralization and local government relations
  • Panel 6: Asymmetric decentralization
  • Panel 7: Politics of State Reform: Turning Ideas into Action

More information and webinar registration