This paper investigates social democracy and the “developmental state” model as development alternatives for South Africa. This research is significant as it enhances the developmental debate in South Africa that is indispensable in light of South Africa’s poor socio-economic performance. A comparative-historical study is conducted, as well as an analysis of the socio-political situation in South Africa to determine each model’s compatibility with South Africa. State autonomy is assumed essential. Liberal democracy and the authoritarian “developmental state” model are rejected on theoretical and compatibility grounds. Social democracy is therefore investigated. It is concluded that this model is theoretically stronger, yet ideologically squeezed, and its execution is hindered by major stumbling blocks that are identified. Ultimately, it is shown that the economics is fairly simple, but the “primacy of politics” is essential.