After a smooth start in the early post-apartheid period, South Africa’s ruling party, the African National Congress (ANC), is increasingly afflicted by contradictions between its idealistic principles and the baser behaviors of many of its officeholders. These behaviors currently include threats to institute tighter controls over the judiciary and the ANC’s civil society critics, especially the independent media. A discernable trend toward intolerance of judicial brakes on executive power, and also toward a general aversion to any criticism of executive policies and actions, raises troubling questions about the future of democratic governance in South Africa.
former Senior Director for Program Strategy, Development and Learning
February 3, 2012
The progress that sub-Saharan Africa has achieved in building democracy over the past generation is coming undone. After two decades of significant gains, the continent has experienced a steady decline in democracy over the last several years.
Threats to media freedom inSouth Africa—which has had one of the most open press environments on the continent since the end of apartheid more than 15 years ago—have increased in recent years, raising fears of backsliding in a country seen as a model in the region. These threats have occurred in the context of multiple challenges to democratic consolidation, including recent encroachments on judicial independence and other institutions that provide checks and balances on executive power. In addition, an upsurge of inflammatory rhetoric directed at the white minority, particularly by the faction headed by Julius Malema, president of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) Youth League, has led to the overt injection of race into various debates on political and socioeconomic issues and resulted in increased self-censorship by non-blacks on a range of issues.
The African National Congress (ANC) will reschedule its September 20 debate on the Protection of Information Bill to next quarter due to public outcry and accusations that the legislation threatens freedom of expression. The ANC is divided on the bill and plans to consult with groups against the bill before resuming debate—the groups hope to rewrite the bill, which has no “public interest defense,” threatening journalists who disclose protected information. The Protection of Information Bill would regulate the distribution of state information, “weighing state interests against transparency and freedom of expression.” On August 31, the ANC told a special committee that it would not add a clause to protect the public interest, because it did not consider journalists a separate class.
A majority of Americans see democracy in the U.S. as weak and getting weaker, according to a national survey released by The Democracy Project, a joint initiative of Freedom House, the George W. Bush Institute, and the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement.
The political parties vary in impressions as to the specificity (or not) of issues that concern the youth. The issues are both substantive (concerning aspects of public policy and government action) and procedural (relevant to participation in elections and politics). Parties strive to expand their use of social media. However, the diverse demographic backgrounds of their supporters dictate that they will use a mix of traditional media (pamphlets, newsletters, speeches, door-to-door grassroots visits), intermediary electronic media (SMS and email), and social or new media (Twitter, Facebook, Mxit, WhatsApp, Google broadcasts, podcasts).