A magazine advert during the early years of the Mandela government in South Africa vividly illustrates the ambiguities and the scale of the transition under way at that time. Published in a business magazine, it featured African National Congress (ANC) militants who had used their experience in Umkhonto we Sizwe, the armed wing of the ANC, to go into business as security guards for supermarkets and other companies. Long after Nelson Mandela's release from prison in 1992 and election as president in 1994, debate continues about the transformation process in government policies, services and communities. Early excitement about the peaceful transition symbolised by the security guards' advert has been eclipsed by debates about enduring levels of poverty and inequality among black communities. Do current policies reflect concessions to neo-liberalism and to marketisation which negate the radical impetus of the ANC-led government (Bond 2000)? Or has the maintenance of sufficient stability to allow reforms to proceed, however unevenly, been a major achievement in itself (Ncholo 2000)?
Within this broad picture, commitment to public service transformation has been at the heart of South African government policy since 1994, which is focused on reducing inequalities both in public sector employment patterns and in service delivery and on creating accountable, transparent systems. Reducing gender inequality in employment and in access to services has been a specific aim, with targets and monitoring processes developed accordingly; acknowledging and tackling the high rates of rape and domestic violence have also become priorities. Western governments and donor agencies have become prominent players, through initiatives in policy development, management consultancy, staff training, twinning and other schemes (Bevan 2000; Bond 2000). This period has also seen an important transition in approaches to public sector management from UK government agencies such as the Department for International Development. The Conservative government language of internal markets and customer relations of the early 1990s has been eclipsed, since 1997, by a New Labour emphasis on stakeholders, citizens and partnerships.