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Pass or Fail?

Assessing the Quality of Democracy in South Africa


Victoria Graham

In recent years, growing concerns over the strength of South Africa’s democracy appear to indicate a population increasingly disillusioned and dissatisfied with the quality of its implementation. This book assesses the quality of democracy in South Africa after 20 years of democracy in order to ascertain whether or not this growing perception is valid. Since the inception of democracy in 1994 there have been countless procedural and substantive improvements in addressing historically entrenched political, social and economic problems; however, there are serious issues that have emerged relating to the quality of democratic implementation in South Africa. Two existing analytical frameworks of democracy assessment, International IDEA’s State of Democracy framework and Leonardo Morlino’s tool for empirical research on democratic qualities, TODEM, are utilised to assess the quality of South Africa’s rule of law and institutional capacity; representative and accountable government; civil society and popular participation; and freedom and equality after 20 years of democracy. The book concludes cautiously that while South Africa faces many serious and threatening potholes in the road to a fully successful democracy, there is nevertheless much to applaud.


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Chapter Three. Pillar One: The Rule of Law and Institutional Capacity


95 Chapter Three Pillar One: The Rule of Law and Institutional Capacity “The rule of law is a necessary but not sufficient condition for democracy. It, in turn, needs independence, honest judges, who command not only the authority of their office, but public legitimacy … who they are and where they come from is critical to the quality of the rule of law” (Calland, 2006: 216). “Bureaucracy is not an obstacle to democracy but an inevitable complement to it” (Joseph Schumpeter). 3.1. Introduction In the previous chapter the framework for assessing the quality of democracy in South Africa was established. The pillars, dimensions and indicators for assessment were identified and the pillars and dimensions were briefly explained. In this chapter, the first of these pillars: rule of law and institutional capacity will be assessed. Universal access to justice, commitment to the rule of law and the independence and impartiality of the judiciary are fundamental elements of a high quality democracy. It is universally accepted that judicial independence is a sine qua non of a democratic state and without it, or a strong rule of law to ensure civil liberties, political rights and mechanisms to curb abuses of power, then the rights, equality and dignity of all citizens are at risk (Okpaluba, 2003: 109; O’Donnell, 2005: 3). Equally as important as the rule of law is the security of the individual, an independent prosecuting authority and a police service that protects citizens from the arbitrary use of state authority and punishes organisations...

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