An Accidental Advance? South Africa’s 2009 Elections

Issue Date October 2009
Volume 20
Issue 4
Page Numbers 108-122
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South Africa’s April 2009 parliamentary and provincial elections may prove an important democratic breakthrough, not because high-minded leaders sought to deepen democracy, but because competition for power and influence opened new democratic avenues. If we understand democracy purely as a set of “negative” freedoms that protect individuals from arbitrary government power, South Africa’s democracy has done much better than expected since its inception in 1994. But if we see democracy also as positive liberty, then progress is far more modest. In light of the economic crisis, effectual government performance will be the key issue of Zuma’s presidency. In the end, South Africa’s ability to weather the storm will depend in part on whether governing-party politicians take the election result as a cause for self-congratulation or as a warning.