The replacement of Apartheid-style government with multi-racial democracy in South Africa constituted one of the most profound, challenging and celebrated regime changes of the late 20th century. Unfortunately, a majority of citizens and most local commentators now characterize the past quarter century of democratic government as highly disappointing. When seen in the context of a global retreat of democracy, such views may contribute to growing skepticism about the viability of democratic government, especially in sub-Saharan Africa. In this descriptive case study, I assess the country’s democratic record in a more far-ranging manner, including through historical and cross-country comparisons, and arrive at very different conclusions. Although many major challenges remain in this divided society, in fact, democratic practice has strongly enhanced what I call, dignified development – that is, extending the share of the population living in a manner that could be recognized as respectful of human value. I describe these patterns, the disconnect with local appraisals, and implications for divided societies.
Discussant: Rosie Pinnington (Oxford)