Unit 8. Building Democracy After Apartheid

Post-apartheid South Africa faced mammoth tasks: to consolidate democracy, to lessen the harsh legacies of a century of segregation and apartheid, and to improve the day-to-day lives of the people. Enormous strides have been taken in these directions with the final burying of apartheid and major political, social, and economic transformations. The country is respected across the world, where before it was a pariah. It has become a major leader of the African voice in world forums. The Constitution has proved to be a success, and the Constitutional Court has won wide acclaim. Despite these substantial gains, the country still faces deep economic inequalities and acute problems such as high rates of unemployment, homelessness, and violent crime; slow progress on land reform; a dysfunctional education system; a burgeoning health crisis mainly due to the HIV/AIDS pandemic; and a growing concern about corruption.

Significant progress has been made to heal the divisions of the past. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission advanced the process of reconciliation and contributed to general social peace and stability. The resilience of multi-party politics was tested in three successful, democratic national elections, in 1999, 2004, and 2009 that were regarded as free and fair by international observers and demonstrated administrative efficiency. The African National Congress (ANC) continued to win significant majorities in the national Parliament under Presidents under Presidents Nelson Mandela (1994-1999), Thabo Mbeki (1999-present), and Jacob Zuma (2009-present. A series of similarly transparent local elections have led to the restructuring of municipal and provincial governments.

Democratic consolidation and the establishment of a consensus-style democracy have coexisted rather uneasily with the ANC's national electoral domination. There may be tensions between building a liberal democracy and the need for greater government control to deliver much-needed services to disadvantaged black communities. Some political analysts warn of the dangers of a "dominant party system" and point to former President Mbeki's desire to expand the executive power of the Presidency. In 2000, local government reforms seeking to improve accountability were resisted by some politicians, interest groups, and traditional leaders. In general, however, South Africa has developed a more pluralistic state with well-established opposition parties, a vibrant civil society, and a free and independent press. The government is trying to tackle corruption and fraud, and no corporate scandals such as Enron in the United States have occurred in South Africa.

Important progress also has been made in the economic sector. The government encourages black economic empowerment. One of the first laws passed by the new democratic government was the 1995 Labour Relations Act, which legalized strikes and encouraged tripartite industrial conciliation and negotiation between business, labor, and government. Fiscal discipline and lower inflation had led to economic growth of about 4.5% during the first decade after the 1994 election, which declined during the international recession. At the same time, the government has successfully extended vital services such as electricity, housing, health care, and water to many poor communities in urban and rural areas, although there have been conflicts over paying unaffordable fees for such services. People are now free to live where they wish—if they can afford it.

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