WP8: Views of democracy in South Africa and the region: Trends and comparisons

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Working papers
Mattes, Robert, Yul Derek Davids and Cherrel Africa

By most standards, South Africa’s new political system qualifies as a genuine democracy. But a constitution, relatively well run elections, and stable, elected, representative institutions do not complete the democratic picture. A key question remains: are South Africans truly citizens of their country, willing to support, sustain and defend democratic practices as a consolidated democracy requires? The evidence from a national public opinion survey conducted in 2000 suggests that in fact the country still faces numerous challenges before democratic consolidation is complete. South Africans express relatively moderate levels of support for democracy, lagging well behind many of their neighbors, and they also compare poorly in terms of their level of political interest and participation. Moreover, focusing on the socio-economic improvements they expect democracy to produce, many people are increasingly pessimistic in their assessments of their political institutions and leaders. It appears that the processes of negotiation, constitutional design and institution building have left much of the public behind. This suggests a need not only for a renewed emphasis on civic education, but also for creative thinking about how to reinvigorate the country’s representative institutions in order to give the people a greater stake in the political process.

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