South Africa: 10 Years of Freedom

By Commey, Pusch | New African, February 2004 | Go to article overview
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South Africa: 10 Years of Freedom

Commey, Pusch, New African

General elections, the third since the collapse of apartheid in 1991, will be held in April to coincide with the 10th anniversary of the demise of apartheid. The campaign is in earnest, and President Thabo Mbeki has already ruffled some feathers by pledging tough action on land reform. Pusch Commey reports from Durban.


It has been an amazing run. Not many would have stuck out their neck for a peaceful, democratic and prosperous South Africa after the collapse of apartheid. But the country has proved itself to be a miracle nation 10 years after its first multiracial election on 27 April 1994. And with it, a role model to the world on how conflicts should be resolved without recourse to violence. There is cause for celebration, and no wonder a big celebration titled "10 Years of Freedom" has been planned by the government.


Come April, the country will once again go to the polls for the third time, an exercise conducted every five years. It will be a watershed event in its own peculiar way, especially as an assessment of the state of democracy in the country as well as a scorecard on the performance of the government of the African National Congress (ANC).

South Africa is reputed to have one of the best constitutions in the world. In the run-up to the new dispensation, the negotiating parties agreed to a proportional representation system to elect a 400-member parliament that will make the laws of the country. Parliament elects the president.

In essence, it was a pragmatic decision meant to accommodate white fears. There was no magisterial district in the whole country where whites were in the majority. As a result, the ward system as pertains in Britain would have marginalised minorities. There is a two 5-year term limitation on the presidency but that could be changed through a two-thirds majority amendment of the constitution.

In 1999, voters returned the ANC to power with Thabo Mbeki coming within a whisker of a two-thirds majority. The erstwhile insignificant Democratic Party (DP), which gained only 1.7% of the vote in 1994, increased its share dramatically to 9% by playing on white fears.

The National Party, infamous for presiding over the years of apartheid, dropped to 8% as white voters opted for the DP led by the combative Tony Leon to protect their interests. Since then, the NP has felt the need to change its name to the New National Party (NNP) under the leadership of Marthinus Van Skalkwyk.

In essence, the white share of the national vote dwindled by some 3% while the ANC'S share increased, giving it control over 7 of the 9 provinces of the country (including Kwazulu-Natal where it ruled until recently in coalition with the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP)).

Since the 1999 elections, the two major white parties, the NP and DP, have had an acrimonious divorce. The NP quit the white Democratic Alliance and joined forces with the ANC to run the Western Cape province.

In 2003, a controversial law that permitted floor crossing saw the ANC increasing its gains in the two provinces that it did not control, giving it the requisite two-thirds majority it needed to change the constitution.

However, in Kwazulu-Natal, the relationship with the IFP has deteriorated to such an extent that it has jumped into bed with the DA to fight the ANC in elections 2004. The idea is to prevent the ANC from taking over the province.

The opposition now fears that with the ANC growing in power through its electoral performance and engaging in the politics of cooption, there might be no room for opposition politics and the kind of balance essential in a functioning democracy.

The only problem with the opposition, though, is that, unlike the ANC, none of them is truly a national party. The IFP draws almost all its support from rural Kwazulu-Natal. The DA is essentially a white party that is seen as defending white privilege acquired at the expense of blacks.

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