Researching the politics of development



The politics and governance of basic education: A tale of two South African provinces

Working paper 67

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Brian Levy, Robert Cameron, Ursula Hoadley and Vinothan Naidoo
This paper synthesises the findings of research on the politics and governance in South Africa, undertaken at multiple levels, and using multiple methods. The research explored two core questions: how politics and background institutions influence educational bureaucracies; and the relative merits of hierarchical and horizontal governance. South Africa’s institutional arrangements provide a ‘natural experiment’ for analysing these questions. While policymaking, the regulatory framework and resourcing are uniform nationally, responsibility for implementation is delegated to the country’s nine provinces, which differ substantially from one another, both politically and institutionally. The Western Cape emerges as a strong performer relative to other South African provinces. However, econometric analysis confirms that, notwithstanding strong bureaucracy and abundant resources, its outcomes were below those achieved in Kenya.
The institutional arrangements also assign substantial responsibilities ‘horizontally’ to school governing bodies, where parents are in the majority. School-level case studies detail how in the Western Cape a combination of strong bureaucracy and weak horizontal governance can result in unstable patterns of internal governance, and sometimes a low-level equilibrium of mediocrity. In the Eastern Cape, pro-active engagement on the part of communities and parents sometimes serves as a partial institutional substitute – supporting school-level performance even where the broader governance environment is dysfunctional.