Despite the many evident contributions made by the NPA, there were a number of shortcomings. Perhaps the central one was that the NPA structures dealt mostly with the symptoms of violence rather than its underlying causes. Its limited capacity to promote socio-economic reconstruction and development was notable. It was also unable to transform the violent conflict in the transport sector or to implement gun control measures and reduce the number of weapons, which may have enabled the post-1994 crime wave. Yet the processes it fostered opened space for South Africans to discuss these larger issues and to seek ways to address them.
The NPA was an agreement between the signatories but because it was not enforceable through the courts, the NPC could not use the legal system to sanction those who violated its code of conduct. Despite the need to make amendments to update the NPA, the National Peace Convention was never reconvened after the original event – in part because the political parties were busy positioning themselves for elections. In retrospect, some consider that the NPA was a success despite the political parties rather than because of them; yet without the principled support of these parties, the regional and local peace committees could not have operated.
There were also shortcomings in the administration and implementation of the NPA structures. One of the most significant was the disparity between regions and localities, with some RPCs more effective than in others. Throughout the country, there were far more LPCs in rural areas and an insufficient number in urban areas. The marketing arm tended to overlook the important medium of radio, which has the widest reach in the country. Instead they concentrated on expensive television campaigns and the print media, which reached a disproportionately wealthier and more educated audience. Furthermore, although the NPA advocated inclusiveness, it was clear that men dominated the peace structures at the management level and only one woman served on the NPS. When they were formed, almost all the RPC chairs were white men – despite the transparent election and appointment procedures. These tendencies were largely reversed at the level of staff and volunteers and most of the RPCs and LPCs reflected the demography of the communities they served.
From September 1994, soon after the elections, the new government started closing down the peace structures without stating its reasons. This decision was possibly taken in the belief that the new Constitution provided democratic mechanisms at all levels that supplanted the need for the NPA structures. Furthermore, the NPS always saw its role as interim and short-term. Yet in many places the LPC's 'peace office' had become a valuable resource for local communities: they were places to discuss vital issues and where telephones, a fax machine and a rapid response vehicle were available to people who needed them most. After the closure of the NPA structures, these resources were no longer available. The KwaZulu Natal Provincial Legislature was the only provincial government that arranged for the continuation of a peace committee. Valuable data including the records of monitors, peace committee members, minutes and reports were lost because of a lack of coordination and a rigorous research programme. The huge investment in human resources through training programmes and exposure to unique peacekeeping activities was dispersed as retrenched staff dashed to find employment,leaving the closure of NPA operations in the hands of a few officials of the Department of Home Affairs' Peace Directorate.
In addition to all its more formal achievements and shortcomings, there was also something less tangible that occurred through the joint efforts of those involved in the NPA structures. The exposure of tens of thousands of people to conflict resolution methodologies made a difference in the way many chose to respond to conflict. The experience of working in a diverse team with competent and committed people was a life-changing experience for many and may have contributed to a deeper shift in South Africa's divided society. As Susan Collin Marks, a key figure in the Western Cape RPC, observed in Watching the Wind:
"South Africans had never met one another before like this, face-to-face, and over time we learned to turn away from our habit of fearing one another and instead begin to face our common problems and jointly find solutions.... As former adversaries found one another's humanity throughout the country, so the foundation began to be built for a place where we could one day all be human beings together." (2000, page 16)
It would be fair to attribute much of the success of South Africa's peaceful elections to the ordinary women and men who came forward to make a difference.