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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 Two. The ‘Quality’ of Democracy: Theoretical Explanation and Framework for Assessment


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The ‘Quality’ of Democracy:

Theoretical Explanation and Framework for Assessment

Democracy is one of those concepts “the proper use of which inevitably involves endless disputes about their proper uses on the part of their users.”(Gallie, 1955-56: 169)

2.1.   Introduction

In Chapter 1 the research problem was set out and the term ‘democracy’ conceptualised. It was noted that it is extremely difficult to define what constitutes a ‘good’ democracy, given the term’s value-laden and normative character. Nevertheless, following a discussion on several traditional ‘Western’ conceptions as well as African emphasis of the term, a definition was synthesised and is recapped here as: a system of government based on free and fair competitive elections and the universal franchise; in which government is transparent, abides by the rule of law, and is accountable and responsive to the people for its performance both directly and through the institutions of parliament, the media and other agents of public opinion; and in which all citizens enjoy guaranteed equal civil, political (including participation in the political processes of the state) and socio-economic rights.

Having determined the definition of democracy to be used in this audit, it remains to define what is meant by ‘quality’. Considering the difficulty around defining a concept like democracy, is it even possible to universalise a concept of democratic quality? For that matter, what does it mean to assess the ‘quality’ of a democracy...

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