In ‘traditional’ liberation theological discourse, especially the Latin American strand, the
concept of development, desarrollismo, that is developmentalism, has been severely critiqued.
In recent times, the interpretation of development shifted to a number of models, one of which
has been the view of development as freedom, associated with Amartya Sen’s ‘capabilities
theory’. While the capabilities theory ostensibly comes closer to the goals of the liberation
paradigm in general, this article seeks to critically explore in dialogue with this theory of
capabilities assumptions and implications of the concept of development for our national
democratic revolution. A number of service delivery strikes in our land, with many poor
people expecting government to ‘deliver’ for them, might suggest among other things that
the state does ‘development’ for people, hence the designation of the post-1994 South African
state as a ‘developmental state’. This article argues that, at foundational level, development
understood as liberation could help alter the assumptions that held the national democratic
This article forms part of the special collection on ‘Engaging development: Contributions to a critical theological and religious
debate’ in HTS Teologiese Studies/Theological Studies Volume 72, Issue 4, 2016.