Year: 2007
Working paper number: 195
Author: Seekings, Jeremy
Unit: SSU

The transition from apartheid to democracy in South Africa, marked above all by the election in 1994 of a government led by the African National Congress (ANC) and headed by President Nelson Mandela, represented a milestone not only for South Africa but for Africa generally. The transition meant the end of formal colonial or settler rule in Africa.  On one level, the new South African democracy appears robust and substantive. Whilst there has been no turnover in office at the national level, free and fair legislative elections have been held regularly, with a universal franchise and multi-party competition, and there is an independent judiciary, a critical press, and a vigorous civil society.  But there are at least two grounds for questioning the quality of the new democracy. First, the strength of the ANC undermines the constitutional separation of powers and the real accountability of the executive to the electorate.  Secondly, the ANC is widely accused of having 'betrayed' the working-class and poor by adopting neo-liberal policies that serve the interests of capital and therefore represent a continuity from the apartheid era. Whilst there is some merit in each critique, the formal procedures of representative democracy are not inconsequential, and (more importantly) a range of classes and interest-groups besides 'capital' wield power, albeit in different ways.

Publication file: WP195.pdf