About this site

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Foundation, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

Transparent, Accountable and Participatory Governance - NDI Report

Source: National Democratic Institute For International Affairs


This is a report on the first phase of NDI's three-phase baseline assessment conducted for the purpose of providing information for the design of the Institute's two-year program in South Africa, "Transparent, Accountable and Participatory Governance." NDI is of the opinion that in order for programs to be effective and yield results they must be relevant to the political realities. Therefore, in conducting a baseline assessment we are interested not only in the opinions of our programmatic partners and clients but also those who influence and analyze the political developments in South Africa.

This baseline assessment consists of three components which will ultimately yield a composite workplan. They are interdependent and phased-in so as to provide an evolving contextual framework. The three components are:

1. Key Informant Interviews

2. Focus Groups

3. MOUs with Clients and Partners

As of the end of November we have completed Phase One, both the interviews and the report, and half of the second phase, i.e., 22 focus groups conducted throughout the country in the nine provinces. The final report and presentation, an analysis of the focus groups, will be available by the first of February 1999. Concurrently, beginning in mid-January 1997, NDI will engage our partners and clients in the provincial legislatures and national parliament in the articulation of project activities and the formulation of Memorandums-of-Understanding (MOUs).

Phases One and Two have served a dual purpose. In addition to contributing information for NDI's program design, they have also served to provide critical and timely information to the Minister of Provincial Affairs and his department on legislation to regulate and fund political parties. This is part of NDI's assistance to enact constitutionally mandated legislation on accountability and transparency in government.


"Key Informant Interviews" are the most qualitative variant of survey research. The research provides information on what a select group of elites think of certain situations, actions or proposals. One-and-a-half-hour, one-on-one interviews are conducted with an individual on the condition of confidentiality. A discussion guide is used to focus the discussions but emphasis is placed on letting the interviewee take the discussion where he/she wants it to go, i.e., not adhering to every point in the guide.

To execute this project, NDI retained the services of Lake Associates, a U.S. survey research firm which has worked for NDI and its partners in South Africa since 1992. (Lake is also the principle consultant on the focus group research.) Lake contracted the services of Patrick O'Malley, an academic and writer from the University of Massachusetts who resides in South Africa and is writing a book on the South African transition to be published by Viking/Penquin in 1999. O'Malley's work is known to the interviewees, therefore, he was a trusted interlocutor. NDI, in consultation with O'Malley and Lake, constructed the discussion guide. NDI selected the interviewees and Lake invited their participation for the stated purpose of informing NDI's program over the next two years. Twenty-seven people were invited to participate out of which 22 accepted (two others accepted, but schedulding conflicts canceled their participation). The interviews, analysis and the writing of the report was assigned to O'Malley and completed in a six weeks, 1 October-15 November 1996.

Those who participated in this project were: John Battersby (Editor, The Sunday Independent); Sheila Camerer (M.P., National Party); Warren Clewlow (CEO, Barlow Rand); Ebbe Dommisse (Editor, Die Burger); Walter Felgate (M.P., Inkatha Freedom Party); Hermann Giliomee (President, South African Institute of Race Relations); Pravin Gordhan (M.P., African National Congress); Anton Harbor (Editor, The Mail and Guardian); Wilmot James (President, IDASA); Shaun Johnson (Editor, The Cape Argus); Tony Leon (Leader, Democratic Party); Piet Matthee (M.P., National Party); Vic Milne (Director, Local Government Elections, Department of Provincial Affairs and Constitutional Development): M. Valli Moosa (Minister for Provincial Affairs and Constitutional Development); Jay Naidoo (Minister for Post, Telecommunications and Broadcasting); Jayendra Naidoo (President, NEDLAC); Ben Ngubane (Minister for Finance, KwaZulu-Natal Government); Charles Nqakula (Secretary General, South African Communist Party); Lawrence Schlemmer (Consultant); Fanie van der Merwe (Acting Director, Department of Provincial Affairs and Constitutional Development): Frederick Van Zyl Slabbert (Khula Investments): and Constand Viljoen (Leader, Freedom Front).

This report represents an analysis by O'Malley of over 36 hours of interviews with 22 leaders in government, political parties, business, 'labor, media and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). In writing the analysis the interviews were combed individually and then assimilated into a package -- based on the thesis that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. The whole provides access to nuances that do not appear in any individual conversation.

The material is rich in content, providing a composite was indeed difficult, but we are confident that the following conveys the essence of our dialogue and will serve our work well. The Key Informant Interviews were used to frame the discussion guide for the focus groups that were conducted the last two weeks in November. These groups were composed of community leaders from throughout the country, once again people who at the grassroots influence and inform opinion. [The two guides are attached.]

Multi-Party Definition

Ø. There is no generally accepted understanding of what a multi-party democracy is, or for that matter what a functioning democracy is. There is disagreement as to whether South Africa has one or the other, depending upon the definitions used. Definitions range all the way from the most literal, i.e., there being more than one party in the system, to the most stringent, i.e., there being a competitive party system where parties other than those in government have a reasonable chance of being able to form an alternative government at some future point in time. For the most part, the existence of one dominant party is not seen as being necessarily inimical to democratic governance or even genuine multi-party competitive politics, if elections are held on a regular basis, are free and fair, and no obstacles are put in the way of other political formations being formed or having unfettered access to the electoral process with equal opportunity to disseminate their political propaganda. Many respondents, however, are quite emphatic in making a distinction between having, in the short-run, a functioning democratic system of governance, a multi-party system, and a dominant one-party state, but that acknowledgment often goes with the concomitant acknowledgment of the illusory nature of the distinctions in the longer run. Says one political analyst, respected across the political spectrum for his acumen and impartiality:

"Yes, you can have a functioning democracy without an effective multi-party system, but not for long. Eventually things begin to erode because, let me put it to you this way: it's a major problem to establish a relatively independent civil service because the top positions in the civil service are now being filled by ANC supporters. In that they are doing exactly what the Nats did. The Nats used the civil service as an instrument for upliftment and nepotism and patronage. The formal argument is that, yes, you can have a functioning democracy if you have a fairly independent civil service, if you have a constitutional court, if you have countervailing forces in business, the economy, civil society and if it is possible to use the culture of democracy to call into question the actions of the dominant party. In this sense you can have functioning democracy in which the formal structures of democracy operate. But it can't go on indefinitely. Eventually the predominance of a particular party penetrates those very institutions that you need to maintain a functioning democracy, i.e., it tries to capture control of the civil service, it becomes a self-perpetuating ruling elite and it marginalizes dissent and opposition. It does not necessarily have to suppress or attack the opposition, it simply becomes a dominant regime."

And, the same commentator points out, the paradox of the emphasis on vigorous multi-party systems is that it works best when it is most disregarded.

"For example, in Europe and the United States, there is a certain level of inertia built into most mature multi-party democracies; what makes them mature is the degree to which their constitutional system is accepted and is part of the culture of the people, and here, I must say, we are a hell of a long way from that. If, for example, you move into Richmond in Natal or Vryheid in Natal, the level of intolerance there is quite staggering. People realize, that if you don't belong to the right party, you either shut up or die."

This analysis in different variants surfaces frequently.

Will the Alliance Hold?

Ø. There is an acknowledgment that if the system is to become more competitive that this will only happen if there are authentic political realignments, and that such political realignments must occur on the ANC side of the political spectrum and be African-driven. One ANC minister goes as far as saying that "If a party wants to challenge the ANC it will have to be a non-racial party. A non-racial party is a party that would have its biggest base in the African community. The character would have to be more African than anything else." Other respondents arrive at the same conclusion through the process of elimination of the potential opposition parties. A principle in one of the most important mediation groups in the country:

"In our social conditions with society being still relatively polarized, there is not much space for opposition parties to develop because opposition parties like the NP, which is the only significant one, are wholly incapable of developing into broadly based parties which increasingly will represent all sections, so increasingly they represent a smaller and smaller section, being increasingly discredited by its past. I think it has a very limited capacity to be an effective opposition...."

There is lack of consensus on the question of whether the tripartite alliance will continue to hold together in a post-1999 period or whether the inexorable impact of different policy orientations, especially in regard.to economic policy, will lead to an inevitable parting of the ways. The weight of opinion, however, suggests that the alliance will continue to hold together for the foreseeable future and will survive policy hiccups or even significant policy disagreements in the interests of maintaining the solidarity necessary to see the transformation through -- the aphrodisiac of power can make for bedfellows of the most disagreeable dispositions.

Ø. Partners to the alliance argue that those who hold wishfully, or perhaps wistfully, to the view of the inevitable split simply don't understand the nature of the alliance and its holistic composition. There is not a COSATU, an ANC, and a SACP, each separate in its own right, which "joined" together in an alliance with the always available option of one or two of the parties being able to go their own way, if that were their wish. The situation is far more complicated. The three organizations are inextricably linked. Members of COSATU, and the SACP are, more likely than not, also members of the ANC; one limb of the organic whole cannot simply be chopped off. Although COSATU and the SACP exist as separate entities, they are autonomous but integral subsidiaries, as it were, of a parent organization, in this case the ANC. As a result, a Sam Shilowa, for instance, is a member in good standing of COSATU, the SACP and the ANC. Different hats, but the same head. One interviewee who occupies a senior position in the SACP describes the relationship:

"In the SACP the great majority of its members are members of the ANC. It is not possible, therefore, at this time to break the alliance with the ANC. We are trying to build a single patriotic front among the masses in order to ensure that the people benefit completely from the new process of transformation. [A division] in the alliance would make transformation more difficult to achieve. People who supported us as both the ANC and the SACP, and as ANC, SACP and COSATU would be confused. In that confusion all types of attacks would be launched against our democratic program."

In his view, "when a realignment of forces happens in the country, the ANC and its allies will be the beneficiaries." In short, according to this scenario, even in the worst of circumstances, the alliance will hang together, for to hang separately would advance the agenda of the alliance's political opponents. Indeed, as one astute political observer remarks: "Generally speaking, the pattern at the moment is that the opposition parties are pushing hard for realignment, redefining their roles, trying to find new allies and partners, whereas your dominant party, the ANC, is consolidating its support and keeping the family together, as it were." In addition, the alliance is bound together by something more transcendent than mere politics. Many alliance-inclined interviewees speak of the emotional connection of their shared experiences in the struggle, of the sacrifices willingly made and the prices willingly paid in order to advance the cause they all put before life itself. The ANC to this day sees itself as a liberation movement. Liberation movements are, by definition, undemocratic, and given to authoritarian impulses. Indeed, part of the problem the ANC itself has to come to terms with, is that in the process of undergoing its own transformation from liberation movement to political party, it has to stamp out authoritarian proclivities inherited from the past and inculcate democratic ones in their place --a process more easily articulated than implemented. In addition, there are also the legitimate concerns of impartial observers that the concentration of power within the alliance and the assumption of the party of the role of opposition to itself, inhibits the development of a pluralistic multi-party democracy and breeds a benign complacency within the alliance that it itself is sufficiently vigilant of incipient, anti-democratic malpractices in government as to make the need for the classical opposition party in the role of watchdog all but redundant. As one respondent put it: "The state of the alliance between the ANC, the Comwunist Party, and the trade unions tends to keep opposition and criticism within the party -- it's intra-party rather than inter-party - - and that clearly has its drawbacks in terms of a robust democracy."

National Party Transformation

Ø. There is a stronger consensus on the question of the National Party's plans to transform itself into a broadly based non-racial party that would be successful in attracting a significant number of African voters. The widespread belief is the NP will not become the newly envisaged "NP" without completely changing its identity and in the process becoming Africanized. An inevitable consequence of this, most respondents believe, is that the NP would lose its core, i.e., white constituency. One political scientist puts it succinctly: 'The NP would have to revamp itself in such a way that it would be very difficult for it to keep its original constituency, if it really went all-out to become an African party."

Ø. ANC interviewees, in particular, remain not just skeptical but downright dismissive of the NP's capacity to adapt in a manner that would make it an attractive alternative for Africans to the ANC. One respondent captures the breadth of the ANC's dismissiveness, a dismissiveness that expresses itself in another way in that no interviewees, other than those who are NP-aligned, even raise the resurrection of a new non-racial NP as a serious possibility:

"It [the ability of the NP to transform itself] is an absolute myth. The party invented Prime Evil, which had the state hire and pay assassins to murder people who opposed its rule. That's a reality. That's what's coming out of the Truth Commission. That's what came out in the de Kock trial. The NP has no remote chance of winning any significant support in the constituency that bore the brunt of those attacks. Moreover, its most senior enlightened leaders are leaving, among them Leon Wessels, Pik Botha, and Dawie de Villiers is on his way out. In short, a number of the very senior people who guided the party in its attempt to transform are leaving, are deserting the party. A number of their senior black politicians complain of racism in the party, and it's very difficult for them to get senior positions within the party. They have withdrawn from the Government of National Unity; they are actually a weakened force. They have no influence on the executive process, they have no majority that can stop us from taking any Bill we want through Parliament, so they are an ineffective force and cannot offer their constituency anything. They are still a party that welcomes and embraces people like Magnus Malan and Adriaan Vlok. The leader of the NP still defends Vlok to this day. It has lost support even among its most traditional supporters in the security forces; the security forces coming before the TRC constantly say -We're the hired guns, where are the politicians who gave us the orders?" So, in a sense the NP is there, but it is ineffective. I really don't think it has the capacity to offer a viable alternative."

One-Party Dominance

Ø. Few see an alternative to a future ANC government. There are no opposition structures in place, nor are there likely to be. The most blunt assessment from a key NGO spokesman:

"By the time of the next elections, once the Truth and Reconciliation Commission has finished its work, there will hardly be anybody who will vote for the NP. There's the IFP which is being pinned back into its regional base, but even there [there] are a lot of cracks emerging; because it too was very closely tied to a system of patronage in KwaZulu-Natal, which once a system of patronage unravels doesn't have much political cohesion as a party. Then there's the DP which hardly represents anything. The PAC which is moribund because of lack of vision and credible leadership. So you've got nothing. By the time of the next election, you will be faced with the ANC itself, it's shadow, because people will go to the polls to either vote for the ANC or they will decide to stay at home and play soccer or something because they couldn't be bothered, because the result is assured or because there's nobody else they would like to vote for."

The deeply-embedded liberation ethos will go a long way towards ensuring perpetuation of ANC rule. Blacks really have no choice other than to vote for the ANC, although the IFP sees itself as an alternative African-driven political choice to the ANC, if only in a fitfully illusory way. On-the-one-hand, one of the IFP respondents says: "The IFP has got to make its own way and unless its relevance is proven by local support it's not going to survive or stand the test of time, and we're headed for a one-party state." A few breaths later the same respondent says: "The 1999 elections will be a watershed event, which, as things are going now, are going to thrust the country into what will really be a one-party state." Disillusionment or disaffection with the ANC is likely to be expressed in terms of abstentionism, rather than in the form of a vote for one of the other political parties. Few give the PAC or AZAPO even honorable mention, let alone much of a chance, in terms of political development.

Ø. There is almost universal agreement that whatever opposition to the ANC emerges it must be African-driven; otherwise it would contribute to racial polarization and, more likely than not to a consolidation of the ANC vote.

The Media: Players and Referee

Ø. A recurrent theme: "You can't force multi-party democracy on the people." It is an accepted fact that the majority will vote ANC under just about all circumstances. The ANC, it is repeatedly pointed out, is a "broad" church with the longest history of any political movement in Africa. Opposition cannot be artificially created, which is not to say that other political parties cannot play a more constructive oppositional role. The "Catch-22" is the tendency of the ANC to characterize criticism from the NP or the DP -- in ANC eyes, "white" parties -- as being racially motivated, a manifestation of the "Blacks can't do it," and a "We-told-you-so; we're going the way of the 'rest of Africa'" attitude. The perception in the ANC is that NP/DP media criticism is a form of gloating which takes place in a vacuum, i.e., without an acknowledgment of the legacy of apartheid, of how huge the inherited apartheid encumbrance is, especially with regard to the burden of the former homelands and the TBVC states. (This perception is, of course, the basis of President Mandela's scathing attacks on the "white-controlled" press last year and his even more scathing attack this year on "certain senior black journalists" who, he claimed, were being used by their "white conservative employers" to do their "dirty work" by undermining and trying to destroy the ANC-led government.)

The Role of the Press

Ø. Since all respondents are agreed that a free and unfettered media is an indispensable ingredient of an open and accountable democracy, even more so in a situation of one-party dominance, the ANC's attitudes towards the media are at best ambivalent and at worst border on the paranoid. A lot of work needs to be done in the area of the media's role in the transformation process, especially in a developing country where media elites are in a position to determine domestic and foreign perceptions of government's performance and the state of the country. For the media, the challenge is to be both part of the transformation process and an agent of that process in regard to: informing and educating the public regarding the nature of the transformation and the impacts it will have on the citizenry at-large and particular segments of the citizenry; performing its role as watchdog over and critic of government; providing the public with accurate and reliable news; not being a platform or the cheerleader for any political party's political agenda, no matter how well-intentioned and even noble its aspirations; and, being the vigilant eyes and ears of the public. To quote Kaiser Nyatsumba, a respected Black journalist: "It is intrinsically part of the media's responsibility to hold up a mirror not only to society but also to the government so that it sees itself not as it would like to be but rather as it really is." According to the editor of one of the country's most prominent papers, the ANC/media dichotomy is due in considerable measure to the ANC's misunderstanding of the role of the media in a free society:

"Their natural instincts on the media were that the media which had supported them in their fight against apartheid should now support them in their new role as members of Ca] government which is trying to take society out of the apartheid era into the new era. Initially, some of the attitudes one got from leading members of the ANC towards the media were very frightening. One still hears a lot of criticism, some of which seems to be predicated on the assumption that the media has an obligation to support them. I think the media in South Africa, like every other institution, has a certain obligation, given its role in the past, to be unequivocally in favor of democracy and even of the mandate which the majority of South Africans gave to the governing party. What we're trying to get across to the politicians is that it's a very different thing from supporting the government of the day and that our duty is to ensure that they are loyal to that mandate, and when they are not, we have to come down on them like a ton of bricks. They are still having a lot of trouble making that distinction between supporting the mandate of the majority of the people and supporting the government of the day."

Theory, Practice and the Question of Party Perceptions

Ø. All of the "correct" principles for democratic governance are provided for in the Constitution; on paper all the necessary checks and balances are fully enumerated; the practice, however, may leave something to be desired given the weakness of the opposition parties.

Ø. Opposition parties do not yet truly understand their role in the new dispensation, i.e., they think it is to criticize or attack whatever the ANC proposes rather than to develop alternative political visions. The NP, the "official opposition," has never had any experience in that role. Hence, policy paradigms are set in large measure by the ANC; the other parties do not offer alternative paradigms but only take issue with particular aspects of the ANC's. Their actions are reactive, factional, protective of the interests/concerns of their small/narrowbased constituencies. This, in turn, makes them less effective still as opposition parties since they always appear to be speaking on behalf of old interests, i.e., white interests, and not in the interests of the broader community. Hence, also, the ANC's dismissive, one might almost say contemptuous, attitudes towards the NP and the DP as obstacles in the way of transformation with no worthwhile contributions to make and with little reason to listen to. Indeed, the ANC's disparagement of these parties and what, in its eyes, they stand for; its propensity to see them as irritants in the process, annoying flies that must be swiped off periodically, rather than as potential and necessary to be wooed supporters of the transformation process: and, its rather comfortable acquiescence in the notion that the ANC has become its own opposition, at least in the sense that rigorous policy discussion emanates almost exclusively from within its own ranks, especially in the portfolio committees, is saturated in elitism (justified perhaps), and has disturbing implications for the evolution of democratic practices in South Africa.

Ø. One other dichotomy that emerges from the key informant interviews: despite the NP's attempts to become a multi-racial/non-racial party, the ANC continues to see it strictly through the prism of apartheid. To the extent that it sees every action of the NP as a stratagem to somehow protect the interests of the white electorate and the appurtenances of perceived white privilege, the ANC relegates the NP to the status of "enemy" rather than political opponent and ignores whatever it has to say except when it literally cannot. This state of affairs is detrimental to the development of mutually acceptable norms of democratic governance, especially in a young democracy, is a suppository for intolerance and disrespect for the other. The environment to incubate a strong multi-party parliamentary system is severely diminished when the governing party treats opposition parties as obstacles to governance and not as having the potential to become a possible alternative government.

Ø. Conversely, the propensity on the part of advocates of the NP in particular to see themselves as the guardians of the Constitution and the bulwark against the imposition of the rule of a one-party state, and their suspicions of the ANC's commitment to democracy with whispered illusions to the pervasive influence of the SACP add to the democratic malaise. One NP political figure sums it up:

'At the beginning of the year, we announced in terms of policy that we would spearhead or facilitate the creation of an alliance of like-minded parties into a determined group of parties to fight socialism and to prevent a one-party state happening ....for socialism is the ideal of the ANC."

And: "I don't think the government sees it as its role to promote a strong multi-party democracy. There are certainly plenty of hotheads in the governing party who think that the fact that the majority rules is okay. Frankly they are very assertive, and I don't think they have any qualms about a near one-party state. I don't think they would particularly like to see the ANC majority decrease, and I don't know what kind of commitments they would be prepared to make to assist the other parties."

In addition, their [the NP's] unwillingness to acknowledge that there are grievous wrongs to be righted, that many of the problems, both administratively and financially, that the government faces today are the result of the malfeasance of former NP governments and that the apartheid policies they implemented with such thoroughness and upheld with such brutality have disfigured the social, economic, and psychological topography of the country reveals a measured, almost insolent indifference to its actions in the past that is prima facie cause for ANC antipathy.

Ø. Unless both these problems are addressed and the emphasis put on the primacy of inter-party relations with concomitant commitments on the part of all parties to accept each other's bone fides and the integrity of each other's intentions, the seeds of multi-party evolution will fall on infertile soil. The parties to the conflict in South Africa may have negotiated a settlement to the conflict but they have not negotiated the ground rules for working out their myriad differences in the way they perceive each other, for dealing with the suspicions they harbor of each other's respective agendas and their lingering unwillingness to give each other the benefit of the doubt when the situation warrants it. Unless this festering boil is lanced and the political poison it contains is drained off, seminars, conferences and programs designed to promote a culture of a vibrant multi-party democracy will achieve little. Before one can deal with the problems standing in the way of a deepening of democracy, one must accurately define what the problems are and create a consensus of acknowledgment.

Ø. There is vast room for improvement in the qualitative performance of non-ANC parties in the national and provincial legislatures. The DP's recent crime-prevention program is a good example of a party trying to offer a comprehensive alternative to the way the ANC is handling the law-and-order issue. The program is comprehensive and wide-ranging in the structural reforms it advocates in the criminal justice system and is deserving of critical examination.

Parliamentary Committees

Ø. There is considerable agreement that the portfolio committees should be given more powers, that they should be strengthened vis-a-vis the Executive Branch, if only to provide the political space for political ambitions to express themselves. In a one-party dominant political system, political tiers within the system that encourage political rivalry can serve the public good and act as a brake on what might otherwise become a virtually unaccountable executive.

Need for Strong Government, Strong Countervailing Institutions

Ø. A multi-party system operating in the realm of competitive party politics is the western prerequisite for a progressive democratic order. In South Africa, in the short-run, this could stymie both transformation and development initiatives and the evolution of a stable democracy with the political breathing space to nurture the conditions for a gradual transition to a more competitive multi-party democracy. There is considerable agreement with a proposition that what the country needs now in this transformational phase is a strong government with a transformation agenda: that politics should be transformationally driven, not, as in the West, electorally driven. In other words, during this phase of the transition, there is an acknowledgment that the country must avoid a political configuration where decisions are made a basis of wooing constituencies of key voters rather than on the basis of the hard decisions that must accompany the transformational stage of democratic evolution. Thus, a party, in this case the ANC, which is not looking over its shoulder at opposition parties nipping at its heels, which is not "run" by poll results, is at least in a position to take those hard decisions without fear of the electoral consequences. Of course, whether it will do so is another question; in an alliance like the ANC's the need to assuage its constituent components can operate as a countervailing force, leading to paralysis rather than action. Yet, at first glance, the Growth Employment And Redistribution (GEAR) strategy is an example of where sectional interests within the ANC were brushed aside and the government bit the budget bullet with full knowledge of the possible political consequences, but with the unlikelihood of having to face an electoral backlash . (One could argue that if the ANC alliance can weather the internal arguments over the Growth Employment And Redistribution [GEAR] strategy, emerge with a program that is relatively unchanged and implement it, it can weather anything. The proof will lie in the implementation.) Nevertheless, all parties strongly believe in competing for votes among all sectors of the public.

Ø. In the absence of an electorally competitive multi-party system, which few interviewees thought likely until well into the next decade, there is widespread agreement that the major thrust of efforts to strengthen the foundations of the democratic structures should address:

promulgation of the Constitution; further propagation of a culture of human rights; public awareness programs; literacy; the efficacy of the Bill of Rights; the primacy of the Constitution and the courts; strict separation of powers; public commitments to the cultivation of strong NGOs; a well-developed, independent, and articulate civil society; the proper resourcing of watchdog agencies independent of government and constitutionally protected from government interference; and, the paramount importance of a free, unencumbered, and accountable media. Attention to and action in these areas will shift the emphasis to the role of extra-parliamentary bodies in providing further checks and balances to mitigate and diffuse the proclivities of the ruling party to control rather than to govern. To concentrate on political party development at the expense of the civil sector would be a mistake in the prevailing circumstances of South Africa, given the "objective realities." The parliamentary mathematics are not about to undergo any seismic changes. In this regard extra-parliamentary safeguards and the strengthening of these safeguards are perhaps more important than to build on the quicksands of an ephemeral multi-party system.

The List System Discourages Accountability

Ø. The party list system as is, does not promote democracy. Says an IFP respondent: "We've got a proportional representation system which tends to cut parliamentarians off from constituencies and [is] less accountable to constituencies and that's a pity." The quid pro quo for a proportional representational system that ensures representation for minority parties is the lack of accountability of parliament to the people. Another interviewee, non-aligned in party affiliation, makes the point:

"What makes the dominance of one party more serious is the fact that you have a party list system, pure proportional representational and no constituency system. If you had a constituency system, even if there was a dominant party, you could at least call your member of parliament and threaten to withhold your vote if they were not pushing the agenda you supported--and you don't have that. It encourages the notion that getting ahead in the party is a matter of keeping your nose clean and pleasing the party leadership."

(President Mandela has aired his own misgivings about the efficacy of the current electoral system. In an interview with the Sowetan on 11 November 1996 to mark the half-way mark in his administration, "He acknowledged the party list system -- where members of parliament are nominated by parties and not elected by voters -- as a serious flaw in the Constitution." Mandela said: I personally believe in a constituency parliamentary election system where the people themselves are going to decide. It is an invasion of the rights of citizens to decide for them who should go to Parliament. I am in favor of a change.") Another commentator, a political scientist, approaches the matter from a somewhat different angle:

"You need to change the electoral system. In Taiwan, for example, you've got a multi-member constituency, a single non-transferable vote where, again for example, the city of Taipei chooses 17 members for the city of Taipei and then the parties must make up their minds on how many candidates they are going to field, so that a person who is elected is not only elected because of his party affiliation but also on the basis of his personal capacity in terms of his name recognition."

Ø. Allegiance is to the party, not the people. The consequences are already manifest. There is a growing perception that the NEC/ANC behaves behind closed doors; that dissent is punished or at least not encouraged if one is to make his/her way up the ladder of the party hierarchy. Toeing the line is the test of worthiness, not performance in office. Jacob Zuma, national chairperson of the ANC, recently cautioned party leaders:. 'Anyone in the ANC who thinks the Constitution is more important than [the] ANC is in for a rude awakening." Airing differences in public is the cardinal sin; the unforgivable, to bring the party into "disrepute." "Disciplinary committees" are convened at the blink of an eye and mete out the appropriate "punishments."

Ø. In this respect, many political commentators have taken wry note that the ANC and old NP are not very different in their modes operandi when it comes to party matters, says one: "They're very much the same. They close ranks. When there's a clamor for the resignation of a minister, the ranks will be closed, even though he/she may be dismissed a year or two later." Another interviewee, the editor of a liberal newspaper which editorially endorsed the idea of an American-style system to elect the president, speaks about the reaction to the editorial:

"My sense of reaction to what we wrote is that there is huge debate and concern about the issues we touched on about how we're choosing our leaders, and the level of debate and openness and democracy within the ANC. I think there is an acute awareness that those things impact directly on issues of governance and delivery. I sense a great deal of concern among MPs about the changes they see happening in the way the ANC works, that they are saying to themselves: well, how did Thabo become the heir apparent and will we actually get a chance to really debate and vote on this matter, or are we going to find that when it comes to the election there is one candidate - and the most we can do is abstain. I sense there is real debate and real concern. In the way appointments have been made, in the way dissent has been dealt with, one gets the sense that people are rewarded for toeing the line, taking the right positions, by not challenging authority or leadership, and people are being punished for dissenting or critical views."

Intra-Party Democracy

Ø. There is growing concern about intra-party democracy in the ANC, the apparent lack of transparency or explanation with regard to procedure, the high-handedness with which things are done, the seemingly authoritarian line that all players fall into place and dance to the same tune, notwithstanding the ANC's public commitments to transparency, consultation, and accountability. Interviewees point to a recent string of events:

Ø. the expulsion of former Deputy Minister for the Environment, Bantu Holomisa, from the organization;

Ø. the firing of Patrick "Terror" Lekota, Free State premier and his entire cabinet;

Ø. the prohibition, until the ANC Youth League weighed in, on Peter Mokaba's (current Deputy Minister for the Environment) candidacy for chairman of the ANC in the Northern province, on the grounds that "his workload was too heavy" (no such consideration was put in the way of Minister for Justice Dullah Omar when he decided to contest the leadership position in the Western Cape); and

Ø. the instance of Gauteng premier Tokyo Sexwale having to publicly announce that he would not be a candidate for either President of Deputy President of the ANC in 1998.

These events create the public perception of an organization using an iron glove on some of its most publicly respected leaders, without satisfactory public explanation. These perceptions stand in stark contrast to the opinion of a senior ANC minister who was interviewed that one of the most important characteristics of an open democratic system is "the degree of transparency about the internal workings of a political party," and 'political parties themselves must practice a certain minimum degree of internal democracy because a multi-party democracy will not be all that democratic if the parties that make up the multi-party democracy are themselves undemocratic or autocratic internally."

Ø. There is ambivalence as to the immediate importance of having a viable multi-party democratic dispensation, because, although it is provided for in the Constitution, the reality is otherwise and no amount of tinkering with that reality is going to change things a lot. Hence, on a scale of 1-to-10 (one, low; ten, high), it ranks at about a six or a seven in terms of priority, although all pay regard to its importance in its long-term if economic development, which is seen to be linked to a democratic dispensation, is to become the panacea it is expected to be for the country's social and economic ills. The fear is of a Zimbabwe-like situation, a ZANU-like party system, for all intents and purposes a de facto one-party state, where the inevitable consequences of being in power for too long a time result in an idea-bankrupt, static, patronage-ridden, corrupt, inert, unresponsive, unaccountable political system that destroys the fabric of civil society, undermines the institutions of state, paralyses change, and finally implodes upon itself.

Ø. Among the minority parties (primarily the NP and the DP), there is the belief that the single greatest barrier to the development of a multi-party democracy is the prohibition against "crossing the floor"--a prohibition vociferously defended by the ANC. Says the editor of another prestigious newspaper: 'There is still a clause in our Constitution which disallows MPs who are elected for a certain party to cross the floor. It is a bad clause and a restrictive clause because it holds back the fluidity which fuels and helps the democratic process." Indeed, on reflection, it is at least paradoxical that the party that probably stands to gain the most from defections (ANC) -- the rule-ofthumb being that defections come from the out-of-power parties to the in-power parties -- opposes it the most, while the parties that probably stand to lose the most (NP, DP, IFP), whose members might be "seduced" by the in-power party argue the most strongly for it.

Financing Political Parties

Ø. There is a mixed re-action to the use of public funds for political parties (as stipulated in the new Constitution)--the primary one being that the public probably would see it as one more car on the "gravy train," but that if the matter was handled properly, i.e., message delivery is on target, they would be more understanding. Among many interviewees much skepticism is expressed regarding the ANC's willingness to fund its political opponents so that they could become more effective in parliament and as political opponents with the inevitable consequence that they would begin to eat into the ANC's share of the vote.

'...(M]ulti-partyism has to be linked in a sense, in the South African context, with a change in the mode of operation of the so-called opposition parties. You could actually be providing them with funding merely to make them stronger to demand separate education or continue the privileges of the past and so on...(I]f you look at the Constitutional Assembly process and look at the key issues on which we had problems towards the end, it's education, it's the labour relations question, the language question and in the case of the Freedom Front the so-called Cultural Council/volkstaat question. Now all of those are not matters of national interest, they are a matter of group interest and it was advocacy on behalf of specific groups which resulted in a sense in a stand-off. I just want to point out that even if you look at the Schools' Bill that has just been processed in Parliament, if you look at land legislation, I am sure there are many other examples if one had the time to go into them, the opposition has largely been around that. So I would think that the opposition role in this Parliament performed by at least these sorts of parties 90g of the time is one in tune with saying how do I sustain my old perspective as opposed to saying, how do I make you more comfortable, how do I make your processes more transparent, how do I ensure that government doesn't become more closed, how do I make sure that Parliament becomes a more viable institution in terms of holding the Executive accountable, which is the classic role that the opposition should be playing."

The phrase in the Constitution that funding would be "proportionate and equitable" is puzzling to most and appears contradictory to many.

Ø. There is no groundswell of enthusiastic support for public funding of political parties. The concept is alien to many respondents. While most interviewees are prepared to entertain the notion and endorse some form of public funding, they do so in a very qualified way because they are uncertain as to what precisely it is that they are endorsing. Most agree that the sum of money involved should not be great; that there should be strict accountability; that the matter at the moment is not of overriding importance. (On the 1-to-10 scale, about a five). There is a distinct undercurrent to responses that monies given to political parties, unless monitored with extreme diligence, will be abused, not used for purposes intended or simply pocketed. Many refer to the monies political parties received for the 1994 elections and the misuses to which much of it was put. There is also a kind of benign acceptance that if parties are offered public funds, it will only be "natural" that parties/politicians will try and seek some selfish advantage out of the opportunity.

Ø. There is a notable disjuncture among interviewees who articulate responses on questions relating to the viability of multi-party democracy and their responses to questions relating to the public funding of parties. With regard to the latter, responses are more clipped, vague, and it is clear that the question had not elicited much of interviewees' attention prior to the questions put to them. As noted, respondents are for the most part in favor of some form of public funding, especially to help the smaller parties get their messages out and for assistance at election time. Hence, they envisage that whatever funding is made available should be weighted somewhat in favor of the smaller parties. At the same time there is concern that public funding of smaller political parties should not allow them a measure of financial support well in excess of their public support. One, therefore, has to find a formula for funding that balances giving a helping hand to smaller parties without giving a level of assistance incommensurate with the party's political standing. Many interviewees associate public funding of political parties with an effort to weaken the influence of private donations. They see public funding as something that would be supplementary to, rather than in place of private funding. If there is a consensus, it is that political parties should subject themselves to the rigors of the marketplace. If they appeal to the public with their programs and policies, they will receive financial support: if they do not, they will not. Some public funding to help political parties jump-start their political campaigns, or to assist them in disseminating their manifestos might be in order, but not a lot more than that.

Ø. There is also support for public funding being available to new political formations, although how one would measure their level or potential level of support in the absence of their having contested an election so that it could be shown that they enjoyed a level of public support above some minimal threshold remains problematic.

Ø. In summary, there is a "yes" to some public assistance to political parties, but a very qualified "yes."

Ø. On the question of disclosure, there is a great deal of ambivalence ranging from advocates of non-disclosure on grounds of possible retaliation/discrimination in the award of state contracts if it was revealed that you had not contributed to the party in-power, to invocations of one's constitutional right to privacy with regard to transactions between the individual and the political party of his/her choice, to full disclosure but with no limits on the size of contributions. There is no firm agreement on contributions from foreign governments, some arguing that so long as the source of funding is disclosed they should not be disallowed, others arguing to the contrary. However, the weight of opinion probably comes down on the side of barring contributions from foreign governments, though not foreign nationals. There is nevertheless, more emphasis among interviewees on accountability regarding how money is spent rather than on the disclosure of its sources. All-in-all a subject on which few have reflected, few have firm opinions -- an area of public policy ripe for debate.

Race and Multi-Partyism

Ø. The key informant interviews reveal the extent to which politics in South Africa are race-driven, and that for all the talk about the rainbow nation and non-racialism, these are rooted in the aspirations of the Constitution rather than in the practices of political life. Political parties perceive each other in strictly racial terms. For pro ANC respondents the NP and the DP are synonymous with white, while for pro NP and DP adherents, the ANC is synonymous with African. Only in the case of the ANC and the IFP is there a pronounced absence of racial overtones. Here the parties see themselves in terms of mutually exclusive competitive terms in terms of an African constituency. On the other hand, all parties see themselves in non-racial terms and believe that they hold the elusive key to racial harmony.

Ø. To the extent that the parties believe in their imagined sense of self, they are the victims of a false consciousness that exudes denial in the face of the objective reality. At the moment, the country is in a phase of increasing racial polarization, perhaps long overdue since the "miracle" of 1994 and the hoop-la it generated made it easy to underplay the deep racial divisions that are the essential hallmark of South African society. Whites are resentful of the TRC (according to a HRSC poll 64 percent of whites either disapprove of the TRC, believe it is a witch hunt intended to humiliate them, rather than an impartial body motivated to get at the whole truth, or are disinterested in its proceedings). Blacks, on the other hand, resent white attitudes to the TRC. In their eyes, whites show no remorse for the brutal oppression conducted in their name, they react to the revelations of past atrocities without any display of measurable guilt; and, even whites who appear before the TRC to "confess" to their sordid actions express little more than a pro-forma apology, enough to earn amnesty, but lacking in real conviction. Whites eschew accountability for the past, insist on the moral equivalence of the violence on both sides, and see themselves as victims. The idea of the TRC as a witch hunt is not confined to the white community. The IFP opposes it vociferously, an opposition vigorously stated by a senior IFP adviser: "The whole Truth Commission is basically an attempt to keep the politics of liberation alive and well because it's underpinning the power base of the ANC. You can't offset that."

Ø. The above is said, not because it emerged out of the key informant interviews, rather, it is the conclusions of a number of public opinion surveys and in-depth interviews with large numbers of South Africans of every political hue over the last two years. It is said because it is noteworthy that in discussions of the prospects of multi-party democracy respondents never made any association between the rudiments of democratic governance and the imperative for profound reconciliation at every level of society, for a national-coming-together, a bonding on the basis of forgiveness, a new understanding of how the history of the past will indelibly shape the new South Africa. Again, in the absence of the latter, the great racial divide will remain, less talked about perhaps as time goes on but omnipresent in the national subconscious ensuring that democracy in South Africa will always be the step-child of the people, not the democracy of "We, the people."

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Foundation, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. Return to theThis resource is hosted by the site.