In South Africa, government relies significantly on NGOs in the delivery of social services (Patel, L. 2012. “Developmental Social Policy, Social Welfare Services and the Non‐Profit Sector in South Africa.” Social Policy & Administration 46 (6): 603–18). The services NGOs provide in areas such as early childhood development, education, health care, skills development, food security, elder care, and other arenas form part of South Africa’s framework for achieving its long-term development goals. Also aligned to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), this government-NGO shared vision for development highlights the importance of NGOs in the development ecosystem. At the policy level, government explicitly refers to NGOs as stakeholders and development partners. However, at the level of practice, questions remain about NGOs’ participation in planning for the development to which they so significantly contribute, and the extent of NGOs’ role in increasing participation in democratic processes. In an effort to better understand whether NGOs adequately participate in development planning processes in South Africa, semi-structured interviews were conducted with 73 participants, including NGO leaders and relevant key informants from national, provincial and municipal levels of government. The interview data were supplemented with content analysis of government documents. In spite of the fact that NGOs’ involvement in development planning is explained by the state as a good governance principle ensuring meaningful participation of stakeholders (Republic of South Africa: Department of Social Development 2017, United Nations Development Programme 2011), the research findings suggest that NGOs’ participation in the development planning process is deficient. This deficiency stems from institutional and policy issues including the lack of a framework for participation, government’s perception of NGOs and neglect of the NGO sector, and political issues such as partisan political activity in spaces of participation and engagement. The democratic potential of NGO participation is also hindered by organizational issues relating to the amorphous nature of the NGO sector, apathy of NGOs and a fragmented NGO sector.