A study of democratic consolidation in South Africa : what progress to date?
Kearsey, Stuart James
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Democratic consolidation has become an increasingly popular phenomenon with the advent of democracy in countries all over the world, making the successful transition to a democratic dispensation from authoritarian rule. South Africa, as the case under analysis, provides a clear example of a country that has successfully managed a democratic transition, and is now on the path of consolidating its democracy thirteen years into democratic rule. The extent to which democratic consolidation is being effected in South Africa is the primary focus of this study, with a critical examination of the factors that are instrumental in creating and sustaining the conditions conducive to democratic survival. This study provides a theoretical grounding in the existing literature on democratic consolidation, which enables us to highlight the key areas of consolidation. The criteria used to determine the degree to which South Africa’s democracy can be regarded consolidated was developed by Linz and Stepan (1996), Przeworski et al (1996), Bratton and van de Walle (1997) and the subsequent writings of others. This enables us to develop a multivariate framework for evaluating the extent to which democracy is ingrained in South Africa, as well as assessing prospects for the consolidation thereof. The criteria in this study are thus broadly subdivided into the following categories. Firstly, the existence of an autonomous political society, whereby democratic institutions are evaluated in light of the parliamentary system, the electoral system, elections, the state of political parties in South Africa, and the existence of a legal culture that upholds our Constitutional democracy. Secondly, the existence of an economic society in South Africa is assessed in terms of the state of the economy and the economic policies followed by the ruling party implemented to enhance economic growth. This is studied in the context of current socio-economic ills, such as income inequality, poverty, unemployment, and measures designed to relieve these problems, most notably the creation and development of a black middle class to generate greater equality and empower the black majority. Lastly, social factors are discussed, with an emphasis on race and the significance it assumes in South African politics today. Other factors such as the existence of a strong and vibrant civil society and the development of a democratic political culture are equally important in sustaining a democratic dispensation. The latter, for the most part, was found to be a crucial determinant of whether prospects for democratic consolidation in South Africa are positive. Political culture, in essence, embodies all the criteria discussed, and thus is an underlying theme throughout this study. The findings indicate that South Africa’s democracy is consolidating in terms of institution building; however these institutions need to be protected and strengthened to ensure that trust and confidence in them is developed and maintained. The major obstacle to achieving consolidation though, is the issue of the African National Congress’ dominance in Parliament, rendering the opposition relatively insignificant. In addition, poverty and unemployment persists despite policies designed to uplift the poor. This was found to be a significant burden on democratic consolidation. Civil society plays an important role in this regard in helping to improve service delivery, as well as acting as a watchdog over state power, which is pivotal in fostering a democratic political culture. Whether or not this is sufficient in upholding democracy, only time will tell.
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