Political parties and democracy in South Africa

Robert Mattes, Matthias Krönke, Sarah Jane Lockwood

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


While a sustained wave of mass opposition eventually washed away the formal edifice of South Africa's apartheid regime, ordinary South Africans have yet to develop high levels of positive commitment to the institutions of liberal democracy (Butler 2005; Mattes 2019). Instead, the survival of liberal democracy in South Africa has been based, thus far, on the actions of individual elite "gatekeepers" (Levitsky and Ziblatt 2018) located largely in the country's courts, parliament, and civil society organizations, and, sometimes, in political parties. While some individuals have worked to defend democratic practices within their parties, and some opposition parties have taken formal steps to counter specific acts of democratic erosion through legal action, we argue that South Africa's parties have, collectively, weakened the country's democratic experiment by failing to commit fully to all aspects of liberal democracy, engaging with voters, or offering voters a competitive electoral arena that provides them with effective choices. South Africa thus has a supply-side problem in its democracy, a problem exemplified by four striking characteristics of the country’s political party system, which in turn have their roots in a series of structural and contingent factors.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationPolitical Parties and the Crisis of Democracy
EditorsThomas Poguntke, Wilhelm Hofmeister
Place of PublicationOxford
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 24 Nov 2023


  • political parties
  • democracy
  • South Africa


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