In this article I analyse urban policies and policy processes that serve the needs of low–income groups in South Africa. I show how conceptions of international best practice and indicators of best practice have shaped the formulation of urban policy in the country, in particular, examining how the government has set out to address housing and municipal services backlogs. In addition, I demonstrate the key role of international development agencies and globe–hopping consulting firms and academics in helping to interpret how international best practice might be locally applied. These points are demonstrated with a case study of municipal services partnerships and the role played by the World Bank, the United States Agency for International Development and their consultants in bringing them into being. Lastly, I debate the potential for locally differentiated policies outside the realm of best practice.