n Journal of Public Administration - South Africa : a unique democratic transition? Paradox and prospects

Volume 49, Issue 1
  • ISSN : 0036-0767



Barely two decades ago, many doomsayers and commentators believed South Africa was headed towards possible prolonged civil war or even serious racial conflict. While this never happened, is the country's post-1994 situation a sign of political stability? Is South Africa a politically stable and economically prosperous society? How unique or exceptional is the county's democratic transition? If so, what explains such 'exceptionalism' and apparent triumph over so many hurdles the country faced just before its 1994 historic all-raceelections? This presents us with an apparent paradoxical situation: is South Africa's transition to democracy unique? Further, what are the country's prospects for democratic consolidation? This paper examines South Africa's transition to multi-party democracy through free and fair, internationally accepted elections. It approaches the subject from an Afro-optimistic but cautionary perspective and acknowledges the positive aspects of this transition while accepting the related hurdles. Afro-optimism highlights the continent's gains especially in terms of Africa's political stability and economic prosperity. Drawing on current data, literature and relevant theories, the paper argues that South Africa is economically prosperous compared to many African countries; and that it is also relatively politically stable despite its recent past and current problems. It concludes by examining a few best practices on the country's experiences and potential lessons from which other African countries could draw as they tackle the challenges and paradox of their political independence.

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