Government Confronts Culture: The Struggle for Democracy in Southern Africa

Government Confronts Culture: The Struggle for Democracy in Southern Africa

Government Confronts Culture: The Struggle for Democracy in Southern Africa

Government Confronts Culture: The Struggle for Democracy in Southern Africa


Transitional societies -- struggling to build democratic institutions and new political traditions -- are faced with a painful dilemma. How can Government become strong and effective, building a common good that unites disparate ethnic and class groups, while simultaneously nurturing democratic social rules at the grassroots? Professor Fuller brings this issue to light in the contentious, multicultural setting of Southern Africa. Post-apartheid states, like South Africa and Namibia, are pushing hard to raise school quality, reduce family poverty, and equalize gender relations inside villages and townships. But will democratic participation blossom at the grassroots as long as strong central states -- so necessary for defining the common good -- push universal policies onto diverse local communities? This book builds from a decade of family surveys and qualitative village studies led by Professor Fuller at Harvard University and African colleagues inside Botswana, Namibia, and South Africa.


Much remains to be done…over and above the resolution of constitutional issues. Perhaps above all, South Africa has to develop a culture of democracy. Whatever the obstacles, we now have to try democracy to show that it will work.

—Helen Suzman (1993:290)

A hot blast of controversy swept into South Africa's democratic parliament, towards the end of the remarkably tranquil first year after apartheid. the contentious proposal put forward by Nelson Mandela's young government, a plan to build houses and to provide cars and secretaries for a colorful panoply of tribal chiefs, spread throughout the land. One supporter, Prince Sifiso Zulu, argued, “You can't expect traditional leaders to open up to democracy without some movement toward recognizing their importance and difficulties” (Eveleth 1995).

The proposal seemed preposterous after the world had watched the African National Congress under Mandela calmly move to the political center, echoing the universalist and pro-market ideals of Western-style modernization. Yet the anc continues to express a paradoxical set of policies and strategies for broadening its own legitimacy. This involves a centrist strategy aimed at advancing nation-building and the modest redistribution of jobs and income. the legitimacy of this fledgling state, and its technical ability to bring change in the provinces and townships, depends upon its political and organizational links with local leaders, be they black, white, coloured, or Indian.

Choice and federalism are two words heard often in the New South Africa. These terms contain medicinal messages aimed at soothing ethnic-

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