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Government Vision and Key Programmes

    What is in this guide?

    This guide explains the concept of a developmental state and the role it seeks to play in economic and social development. It contains the following sections:

      1. The challenges we face in South Africa
      2. The Reconstruction and Development Programme
      3. Key current government programmes

  1. The challenges we face in South Africa

South Africa is a constitutional democracy and government strives to serve all the people in the country.

The counrty comes from a long history of division and conflict. Throughout the years of colonialism and Apartheid, the State played a key role in maintaining inequality and protecting the privileges of a minority. Since the birth of democracy in 1994, the country has faced incredible challenges to overcome the legacy of the past and meet the needs of people today.


Apartheid has left the country with not only a divided society, but also with a very unequal one. In most towns and cities, the landscape still shows a society with huge inequalities and sharp differences between rich and poor.

A typical South African town has a formerly white area where the central business district is situated, which is well developed and compares with any developed country.

On the outskirts of the developed part of town,  you would typically find a formerly Coloured and Indian townships, with a much lower level of development. Even further away from town, you will find African townships. This is where the poorer parts of the community live and it is still almost exclusively African. Very few of these settlements have proper water and sanitation. Most of the roads are not tarred. There are few health facilities and very few supermarkets, banks and other services - like fire stations, ambulances etc. Schools, sports fields, community halls are of a totally different quality from the formerly white areas – if they exist at all.

On the outskirts of the African township, you usually find informal settlements. This is where people who have recently left farms or rural areas to move to the city live. They generally live in shacks, have no proper access to water, sewage, electricity, schools, health etc. Here we find the poorest of the poor and yet they are furthest away from work opportunities and the facilities that they need.

Apartheid has also left the country with rural areas which are underdeveloped and un-serviced. Farm workers and people who live in rural villages enjoy little access to government services and have little chance to lift themselves out of poverty. The bigger cities are badly planned and do not cater properly for the needs of the poor. As in the towns, poor people live in under-serviced townships and informal settlements, far from jobs and facilities.


There are huge differences in the quality of education different classes of people have access to. Many schools still lack basic facilities like electricity, running water, libraries and laboratories. The majority of the population still have little access to tertiary education. There is a legacy of schools in rural areas producing mostly children who only graduate from primary school. The majority of the adult population are unskilled and very few people have tertiary qualifications that will help them to find work in a globally competitive and modern economy.

Housing and land

The country also has huge housing backlogs with millions of people living in informal settlements without access to decent sanitation and other services. The distribution of land and farms is still very unequal and the vast majority of land remains the property of white people.


Crime is a serious problem and a direct result of the poverty that so many people live in. Crime affects all communities in South Africa and the highest incidence of violent crime is in the poorest areas. Gangsterism, drug or alcohol abuse and violence against women are all problems that plague the South African communities.


In terms of wealth, South African society is still divided along racial lines and while a small minority of formally disadvantaged people have managed to become economically empowered, the majority are still living in poverty. Around half of her people survive on less than R430 per month (the 2006 StatsSA estimate for the amount an individual needs to buy basic foods and services).


Unemployment figures ranges between 25% and 38% depending on which measures are used.

The challenge that faces government is to build a strong economy that can provide jobs and opportunities for all the people. This is a long term project and there are many other things that need to be done to make sure that government creates a better life for people now by providing better access to services, health care, education and employment opportunities.

  1. The Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP)

Government has many policies that target poverty and development. The vision of government is still based on the Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP) that was developed in 1994.

The RDP is based on the following important principles:

  • Sustainable and integrated development: The aim is to achieve economic growth, social development and environmental protection.
  • People-driven: Development has to be driven by the people and consultation is a key element of any developmental programme. Without consultation the government cannot be sure that it is meeting the needs of people in the best possible way.
  • Peace and security for all: Development in South Africa has to provide peace and security for all. The development of one community cannot be at the expense of another.
  • Nation building: Coming from a divided past, we can only meet the challenges if we do it as one nation with a common set of goals and one agenda for action.
  • Reconstruction: While there are many things we have to change in our society, reconstruction should always be linked to development. We are not trying to simply change the faces at the top but also to develop the country to meet the needs of the people who have been most disadvantaged.
  • Democracy: Reconstruction and development can only take place in a democratic South Africa. Democracy is not only about voting once every five years in an election. It is about building mechanisms which allow people to participate, to give advice to government, to be consulted on decisions and to get reports on progress.

To achieve reconstruction and development, the RDP divided the key tasks of government into four programme areas. They are:

  • Meeting basic needs
  • Developing human resources
  • Building the economy
  • Democratising the state and society
  1. The RDP and present government policies and programmes

Today, government programmes are still rooted in the RDP vision. Almost all key government programmes try to achieve one or more of the following goals:

  • Sustainable economic growth to create more jobs and build a more prosperous nation
  • Poverty alleviation that directly and urgently improves the lives of the poor and marginalised
  • Improved service delivery that build a better life for all and makes effective use of state resources

There is a brief description below of key current policies and programmes within each of the four RDP programme area:

1. Meeting basic needs

This programme aims to improve the quality of life of all South Africans, and particularly the poor and marginalised. Today, government programmes include:

  • The provision of free basic services like water and electricity – every poor household is entitled to 50kW of free electricity per month and 6 000 l of free water.
  • Housing and land subsidies – people below a certain income level are entitled to a housing subsidy. Acquisition of land by farmers from historically disadvantaged backgrounds is also subsidised.
  • Improving public transport – through taxi recapitalisation, government subsidies for bus and rail transport and improving infrastructure like roads and railways.
  • Improving access to health care – government tries to provide free and accessible health care to all who cannot afford private health care. More money is being spent on clinics and hospitals and equipment is being upgraded. The Department of Health is also trying to attract more skilled health workers to the public service, especially to work in rural areas.
  • Social grants – grants are a direct measure to assist poor people. Almost one in every four South Africans now receives a pension, child support grant or disability grant from government every month.
  • Providing a clean and healthy environment – new laws and programmes have been implemented to deal with clean air, water management, waste management and environmental protection.

2. Developing Human Resources

This programme focuses on providing opportunities for people to develop themselves, to improve the quality of their lives and their standard of living. Today there is a strong focus on providing the skills the South African economy needs. Key programmes include:

  • Education and training - Skills development must help the people to development the economy. (See AsgiSA for more detail). In the more than 30 000 schools, government programmes focus on upgrading facilities, improving curriculum and learner materials and upgrading teacher qualifications. 400 specialist maths and science schools (Dinaledi schools ) have been established.The number of no-fee schools targeting poor communities and improving capacity at Further Education and Training (FET) colleges and universities is beoing increased each year. Government also provides a massive financial support fund for students.
  • Arts and culture, sports and recreation – government targets development in communities that have few facilities and programmes. National programmes like Siyadlala encourage all to take up recreational activities. Government spends limited resources in these areas, but a big part of the national lottery fund is used to support sport and culture.
  • Youth development – The youth are our future and the education system is almost exclusively geared to developing young people. Government also uses initiatives like the Umsobomvu Youth Fund, learnerships and internships to support youth development. Youth Commissions and Councils exist at national and provincial level to advise government on improving policies and programmes that affect young people.

3. Building the economy

This programme aims to create a strong, dynamic and balanced economy that can provide work for the people of South Africa. It includes:

  • The development of small business – government provides advice, support and financial support for small and micro businesses through initiatives like Small Enterprise Development Agency (SEDA) and Red Doors.
  • Developing stronger industries – government funds research and other forms of support to help industries grow to become internationally competitive and employ more people.
  • Improving the amount of goods that is exported to other countries – Government focuses on developing good industrial strategies for key sectors, investing in infrastructure like container transport facilities and working for fair global trading conditions.
  • Creating better conditions for workers – laws have been introduced that protect the rights and safety of workers. Through the Skills Development Levy employers are encouraged to improve worker’s skills.
  • The expanded public works programme – the EPWP aims to employ unemployed people on state funded projects and give them some training as well as work experience. Government pays a minimum stipend for people to work on programmes like home-based care, maintenance of rural roads and Working for Water.
  • Improving infrastructure – Government is investing massively in new infrastructure to make the economy more competitive. Power stations, dams, roads and railways are being built and harbours and airports are improved. Communications infrastructure is being modernised and expanded. Government is also spending massively on housing and social infrastructure like hospitals and schools.

AsgiSA and international trade negotiations are key government programmes to build a stronger economy and overcome some of the constraints. (See AsgiSA for more detail)

4. Democratising the state and society

The final programme aims to create a democratic state, where all people have equal access to power, information, the vote, and ways of influencing government decisions through participatory democracy.  It includes:

  • Holding of regular elections - government funds the IEC to run national, provincial and local elections every five years. Massive voter registration drives happen before every election to ensure maximum participation.
  • Improving access to rights and information – the Constitution guarantees citizens administrative processes and equal treatment. Laws have been passed to enforce these rights. ( See Administrative Justice and Access to Information, ) The  Government Communication, and Information Service (GCIS) provides internet, media advertising and printed information to educate the public about rights and processes. Multi-Purpose Community Centres (Thusong Services Centres) have been set up in most districts to enable people to access different government services in one place. Government has also deployed thousands of community development workers (CDWs) to communities, to help citizens access services and opportunities.
  • Deepening democracy – Apart from elections every five years, people must be able to influence government on key issues that affect them. Government has set up other mechanisms for public participation such as public hearings, izImbizo, ward committees, community police forums and school governing bodies.


Government and the Constitution  |   The three spheres of government   |  Elections in South Africa   |  Local government elections  |   Party agent’s guide for national elections  |   Intergovernmental relations and planning | Policy and law making process | Vision and key programmes of government | Government spending and Income | Economic development and AsgiSA | The developmental state | Government accountability and public participation | SA and the world | The Public Service | Batho Pele | Combating corruption in government

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