Researching the politics of development



When a ‘ruling alliance’ and public sector governance meet: Managing for performance in South African basic education

Working paper 60

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Robert Cameron and Vinothan Naidoo
This paper is one of a series of ESID studies that explore the extent to which the
performance of schools can be explained as an outcome of the interactions between,
on the one hand, the prevailing political dynamics and, on the other, the
characteristics of the prevailing institutional arrangements. The focus of this paper is
on the national performance tools in South Africa. When one looks at the
arrangements that have been put in place for managing public sector performance
since 1994 – across the public service as a whole and specifically within the
education sector – they are enormously impressive. But in general these efforts did
not translate into strong performance.
This paper explores the hypothesis that the answer to this puzzle can be found in the
disconnect between, on the one hand, the technocratic orientation of the
performance management systems which were introduced and, on the other, a
political environment characterised by strong contestation over policy amongst
competing stakeholders in the education sector. It is proposed that policies for
managing performance in basic education could best be explained as the outcome of
a strategic interaction among three sets of actors – technocratically-oriented public
officials in the bureaucracy, teacher labour unions (especially SADTU, as the
dominant union), and the ANC in its dual role as the top level of the public sector
hierarchy and as the primus inter pares within the ‘ruling alliance’. In practice, the
political strength of organised labour resulted in national policies which, beneath their
surface, fell well short of the aspiration of robust performance management.