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Title:Seducing the people: populism and the challenge to democracy in South Africa
Author:Vincent, LouiseISNI
Periodical:Journal of Contemporary African Studies (ISSN 0258-9001)
Geographic term:South Africa
African National Congress (South Africa)
External link:https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/02589001.2011.533056
Abstract:Recent ructions in South Africa's ruling African National Congress have been described from time to time in the media as signalling a dangerous shift towards 'populism'. This article examines this contention. It argues that South Africa is witnessing a significant challenge to the founding precepts of constitutional democracy. This challenge emanates from the (populist) equation of democracy with 'the will of the people'. The article unpacks some of the implications of reducing democracy to majoritarianism. It also provides an analysis of why populist appeals of various kinds have been so appealing to South African voters 15 years into democracy. The article argues that the challenges that are currently being experienced in relation to democratization in South Africa have to do with the inherent tension between the animating ideology of democracy, which suggests that power resides with the people, and the practical functioning of democracy, which relies on the devolution of power to the representatives chosen by a section of the people who rely on order and predictability in the polity in order to govern in a workable way. Populist appeals, it is argued, exploit this tension. But what makes it possible for this strategy to succeed is the failure on the part of political elites to engage in the process of building democracy by way of inculcating respect for democratic values. Bibliogr., sum. [Journal abstract]