Southern African Regional Poverty Network (SARPN) SARPN thematic photo
Country analysis > South Africa Last update: 2020-07-02  

The stories behind the numbers:
an investigation of efforts to deliver services to the South African poor

Servaas van der Berg & Ronelle Burger, Department of Economics, University of Stellenbosch

A report prepared for the World Bank, as background study to the World Development Report 2004

November 2002

SARPN acknowledges the World Bank's WDR 2004 process as copyright holder on this report.
An earlier version of this paper was presented at a SARPN workshop during late-2002.
Any comments can be sent to or
[Download complete version - 495Kb ~ 3 min (80 pages)]     [ Share with a friend  ]


This report for the World Bank Group is meant to complement work being done at both the country level and internationally about the way social delivery mechanisms can impact positively or negatively on social outcomes. This report was commissioned to provide evidence from the South African experience of what works and what does not. The large number of NGOs and CBOs in South Africa also has contributed to a quite varied experience with social delivery and to a fair degree of documentation of such experience, thus creating the possibility of useful insights from these case studies.

This report is focused specifically on the poor and aims at addressing two central questions pertaining to the poor: “What does the South African government spend on the poor?” and “How effective has pro-poor alternative service delivery models been in South Africa?” The document has been structured in accordance: it is divided into two sections, with Section A addressing the first question and Section B devoted to discussing the second question. Due to the nature of the questions and available sources, Section A is an integrated argument referring to recent research, while Section B is presented as a collection of source summaries, loosely tied together by overlapping themes and short descriptions of relevant circumstances and the policy background.

In answering these two questions the report does not aspire to be a comprehensive account of South Africa’s service delivery experience. In our selection of sources, we concentrated on studies that contained descriptions of empirical results and lessons to be learnt. Also, in accordance with our brief, the focus in section B is mostly on nonacademic or unpublished sources that are often not accessible to researchers, policy makers and the development community outside South Africa. Many of the sources in this section are project evaluations for NGOs or the government. Also note that our summaries are selective representations, with the emphasis on those sections of the document that describe an alternative service delivery experiment’s impact on the poor.

Even within this narrower band, the report does not aspire to be comprehensive. The aim is to provide a snapshot of a selection of interesting experiments and experiences in pro-poor social spending and service delivery in South Africa.

The nature of the question asked in Section B implies some reliance on anecdotal evidence and case studies, sources that are often too focused and specific to allow abstraction. The weakness can however also be a strength. The important contribution of these types of sources lies in the granularity that it provides, an ingredient that is often missing from a more abstracted, rigorous and clinical analysis of social delivery. Section B thus complements the aggregated overview provided in Section A, telling us more about a few individual experiences with service delivery: how change came about and what the problems, challenges and pitfalls were.

Section A will consider fiscal incidence and its link to social outcomes. Here it will become clear what a crucial role social delivery fulfils to ensure that spending is translated into outcomes. Section B follows with an outline of the results of service delivery experiments in six areas: primary education, primary health care, water and sanitation, police security, rural roads and social protection. Section B asks questions about the conditions for efficient service delivery by private or NGO partners, the effectiveness of community participation, the appropriateness of user fees and even the stimulation of small business development. Although most of this section consists of source summaries, there are some brief introductory notes to contextualise the sourcebased discussions and to raise issues of cross-cutting concern. The appropriate placement the sources summaries were not always obvious, as some sources deal with more than one issue. After Section B, the report concludes. An appendix provides contact information for the sources discussed in Section B.

Octoplus Information Solutions Top of page | Home | Contact SARPN | Disclaimer