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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 Five. Pillar Three: Civil Society and Popular Participation


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Pillar Three: Civil Society and Popular Participation

“… the effectiveness of democracy depends on an informed and alert civil society, complemented by an informed and alert citizenry”.(Schlemmer, 2008)

5.1.   Introduction

As noted in Chapter 2, an attentive and active citizen body or civil society is critical to deepening democracy in that it acts as a key agent of representation in society offering a way for diverse interests to be heard and widening access to and political participation in political institutions and processes.1 Friedman (2010b: 117) contends that

the quality of democracy is, therefore, closely bound up with civil society’s prospects. The more citizens are able, through organisations that are independent of government, to voice their needs and beliefs to other citizens and public decision-makers, the more public decisions are likely to become a consequence of a process in which the various voices of the people compete for influence and the outcome reflects the voice of the majority that flows from that contest.

Therefore, one of the key tests of the health of a democracy is the depth of civil society, that is, the extent to which participation in organisations that seek to influence government decisions filter down to all citizens (Friedman, 2010b: 119).

It is possible to identify three basic categories of civil society functions.2 The first category of functions comprises those that limit the state for example, by: exerting...

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