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  • Print publication year: 2014
  • Online publication date: April 2018



A Fragile Democracy – Twenty Years On, the fourth New South African Review, is one of doubtless numerous attempts to characterise the state of South Africa some two decades after those magnificent days in late April 1994 when South Africans of all colours voted for the first time in a democratic election. As we write this, we are approaching the country's fourth such election, a significant indicator of the overall success of our democratic transition – for although there may prove to be wrinkles there is every expectation that the forthcoming contest will again be ‘free and fair’. Nonetheless, there are likely to be changes in the electoral landscape, there being significant prospect at time of writing that the ruling African National Congress's (ANC's) proportion of the vote will fall below 60 per cent, the level of electoral dominance it has consistently achieved hitherto. While the ANC can claim many triumphs, and can convincingly claim to have transformed South Africa for the better (materially and spiritually), there is nonetheless widespread discontent abroad. The ANC itself displays many divisions. The Tripartite Alliance (which links it to the South African Communist Party (SACP) and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu)), is creaking; it is threatened by new opposition parties which appeal to disaffection – especially among the poor and those who feel excluded from the benefits of democracy – and even the established opposition party, the Democratic Alliance (DA) today seeks to cloak itself in the mantle of Mandela. Even while the ANC boasts about steady growth, more jobs, improved service delivery and better standards of living for the majority, critics point out that the economy is stagnating, unemployment remains stubbornly high, corruption flourishes, popular protest abounds, and government and many public services (notably the intelligence agencies and the police) have earned an alarming reputation for unaccountability. So we could go on – but we won't, as we would rather encourage our readers to engage with the wide-ranging set of original essays provided by our authors.