Assessing the Quality of Democracy in South Africa
Chapter One. Introduction
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“Defining democracy is a bit like interpreting the Talmud (or any religious text)… you are likely to get at least eleven different answers.”(Diamond, 2008: 21)
1.1. Introduction and Background
The 1994 South African elections officially marked an end to the country’s exclusionary and racist past and ushered in a democracy, delivering not only the universal franchise but also “formal equality before the law, avenues for citizen participation in governance and statutory institutions buttressing democracy” (Muthien, Khosa and Magubane, 2000: 1). South Africa was praised too for its adoption, in 1996, of one of the most liberal and comprehensive constitutions in the world. It contains a wide array of political rights (where among others, it is explicit in its accommodation of the cultural claims of minorities) and socio-economic rights (including the pledge to improve the quality of life of all citizens through access to housing, healthcare, food, water, social security, and education), a range of independent watchdog agencies and commissions intended to support democracy, and an activist Constitutional Court.
Since its democratic transition, it cannot be denied that South Africa has achieved much in rebuilding the state in a more democratic way (for example, five consecutive free and fair elections). Given its history of polarisation and racism, violent political conflict, and extreme antidemocratic tendencies, it would seem that 21 years on the country’s democratic performance has thus far surpassed expectations.
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