This article questions some of the key assumptions of post-development and anti-development critics such as Arturo Escobar and Wolfgang Sachs, who tend to prescribe a puritanical and principled rejection of ‘exogenous development’ that does not necessarily reflect the needs and desires of the beneficiaries of development. Drawing on fieldwork research on land claims in Northern Cape and Northern Provinces (South Africa), the author argues that these beneficiaries tend to deploy hybrid and highly selective and situational responses to development interventions. These hybrid responses can be regarded as indigenous modernities. Development packages are resisted, embraced, reshaped or accommodated depending on the specific content and context. The author also questions James Ferguson's conclusion that depoliticizing development discourses inevitably buttresses bureaucratic state power. Rather, the fieldwork findings suggest that state-led development is often an extremely risky business that can undermine the legitimacy and authority of governments. In addition, in many parts of the developing world, it is the retreat of the neo-liberal state, rather than ‘the tyranny of development’, that poses the most serious threat to household livelihood strategies and economic survival. The case studies discussed here suggest that responses to development are usually neither wholesale endorsements nor radical rejections of modernity. Even when resisting and subverting development ideas and practices, people do not generally do so on the basis of either radical populist politics or in defence of pristine and authentic local cultural traditions.