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South Africa’s democratisation was more about political reforms as opposed to altering the structure of the economy. 

By Professor Ntsikelelo Breakfast of the Department of History and Political Studies

The precursor to the transition to democracy was political liberalisation. The former had to do with the return of liberation movements from exile and the release of political prisoners.

As a build-up to South Africa’s democratisation, were the mid-wife discussions between the protagonists. These conversations about the deep-rooted conflict between political opponents (Apartheid leaders and leaders of the African National Congress).

More specifically, this included the 1985 meeting between business leaders and senior leaders of the ANC in London. Secondly, was the 1987 Dakar meeting organised by progressive white leaders of the business community, members of (Institute for Democratic Alternatives South Africa (IDASA) and top brass of the ANC. 

Out of the two strategic conversations was a realisation that South Africa under the leadership of the ANC will pursue an inclusive democratic South Africa. The urge to South Africa’s negotiations was the fall of the Soviet Union in 1989.

This was a symbolic event which heralded that South Africa will not be under a socialist government as socialism was weakened and substituted by according to Francis Fukuyama ‘market triumphalism’; denoting the dominance of neo-liberalism in the early 1990s.

South Africa’s negotiations in the form of (Convention for a Democratic South Africa) CODESA one and two, paid attention on the prospects of the democratic outlook of the country. Key discussions were made, namely: the electoral system (propositional representation) separation of powers, the drafting of the interim Constitution, human rights for all, five years regular elections, rule of law, etc. 

The model of negotiations of South Africa was based on the problem-solving approach by the late Austrian scholar John Burton.  This is also called the second-track diplomacy; meaning that those who are involved in a conflict need to manage their difference by themselves with a third party. Thus, South Africa’s political changes were not guided by a third party or international actor.

This also makes South Africa to be used a model of democratisation in some quarters. One of the historic milestones was the adoption of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, Act 108 of 1996 to protect the bill of rights and support democracy in the form of independent institutions such as Chapter Nine institutions.

However, on the economic front very limited changes have occurred. For instance, South Africa has the highest inequality in the world. Poverty is also a huge problem amongst the historical disadvantage. South Africa’s economy has not been growing at a fast pace.

At the moment, unemployment is seating at 34 percent, is worse amongst the young people (Statistics South Africa, 2023). Moreover, South Africa has an economic challenge of budget deficit. Consequently, the South Africa had to borrow from multi-literal institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to make up for their financial short-fall. 

From time to time, there are violent social protests throughout the length and breadth of the country. Largely because of the slow pace of service delivery.  The country has witness institutionalisation of corruption on a large scale. For instance, the country has had a political challenge of state capture. Thus, the Zondo Commission was instituted to uncover the truth regarding the entrenchment of corruption. Interestingly, the findings of the Zondo Commission have not been implemented.  Power outage also affects business confidence. 

On the international front, South Africa has been a leader since 1994 on the Africa continent in general and on a global scale in particular. For instance, via the application of foreign policy the country has been promoting human rights, equality, regular elections, development and democracy.

A case in point, is the deployment of the armed forces to conflict areas on the African continent in pursuit of stabilisation. The upcoming general elections will give the first-time voters an opportunity to vote. This feeds into the democratic consolidation.

Contact information
Prof Ntsikelelo Breakfast
Head of Department
Tel: 0415044258