Under what conditions do local political elites in new democracies promote citizen well being? Pursuing this inquiry for South Africa, I assess hypotheses on party competition, popular participation, and chiefly authority as sources of local variation in public goods provision. Empirical analyses use an augmented version of a comprehensive census mortality sample. The evidence dis-confirms the hypothesis that incumbents respond to competitive incentives to supply public goods. Partial, nuanced support appears for the hypothesis that citizen participation enhances public goods provision. Where chiefs are strong, restricted party competition under the ANC lowers the probability of infant and under-five death in majority Black African households, the largest set of households by far; where chiefs are strong, as voter turnout rises, the probability of infant and under-five death in majority Black African households diminishes. The article makes integrated theoretical and empirical contributions to scholarship on public goods, chieftaincy, and the workings of democracy.