South Africa's transition to democracy and democratic
consolidation: A reflection on socio‐economic challenges
University of Limpopo, Sovenga, South Africa
Tshepo Masipa, University of Limpopo, Private
bag x1106, Sovenga 0727, South Africa.
This article uses South Africa as a case of study to reflect on socio‐economic
transformation challenges confronting the country within the context of democratic
consolidation. It argues that although the 1994 democratic project has made consid-
erable strides to enhance the well‐being of the society, socio‐economic challenges of
unemployment, poverty, and inequalities still persists in the contemporary South
Africa—hence South Africa's governing party mantra of radical socio‐economic trans-
formation. Citizens often demonstrate their discontent through acts of civil disobedi-
ence: protests. The last decade has increasingly pockmarked South Africa as a theater
of social unrests. The article argues that this is the manifestation of democratic
distemper rather than consolidation. In other words, democratic consolidation in
South Africa should not, as many do, be understood merely as conceptual fiat but
rather as a precondition towards alleviating the socio‐economic challenges
confronting the nation. If this does not happen, democratic distemper is spawned.
The manifestation of this is civil unrest. A democratic project ought to be about, also
more importantly, enhancing the economic opportunities of the citizens. This should
result in creating jobs and reducing inequalities. For this to happen, socio‐economic
policies should be restructured in a way interrelated with the economic policy. This
is important to advance the well‐being of the society.
The end of colonialism and apartheid in various parts of the world
has led scholars to direct their attention and energies to concepts
such democratic transition and democratic consolidation. They have
increasingly become more pronounced and prominent since the
advent of democracy in most African states, including South Africa.
As Przeworski (1991) explains, the nature of the transition determines
the democratic success or failure of a nation. Munck and Leff (1997)
make a very important point, related to this. They say that the degree
and mode of transition from apartheid to democracy explains the type
of a democratic society the country will inherit and its ability to con-
solidate such democracy. Wieczorek (2012) identifies factors such as
poverty, inequality, and crime as indicators to determine whether
the country's state of democracy, including the extent of its consolida-
tion or distemper. In South Africa, the Constitution of the Republic of
South Africa underscores the significance of healing the divisions of
the past and establishing a society based on democratic values, social
justice, and fundamental human rights. The Constitution laids a foun-
dation for the establishment of the fundamental principles of democ-
racy. However, the extent to which such principles are achieved
remains a contested subject. The Constitution of the Republic of
South Africa is one of the most celebrated in the world because it
underscores the importance of democratic principles that protects
among others, human rights, citizenship, and public participation (Con-
stitution of the Republic of South Africa, Act 108 of 1996).
The notion “radical”socio‐economic transformation owes its rise
in the political and social landscape as a result of a rise in
------------------------------------------------------- -- --- -- -- --- -- --- -- -- --- -- --- -- -- --- -- --- -- -- --- -- --- -- --- -- -- --- -- --- -- -
This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided
the original work is properly cited.
© 2018 The Author. Journal of Public Affairs published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd
Received: 5 March 2018 Accepted: 14 March 2018
J Public Affairs. 2018;18:e1713.