Another positive aspect is the fact that South Africans living in formal housing has steadily increased from 65.1% in 1996, to 77.6% in 2013 according to Stats SA. In the same period, the number of South Africans dwelling in informal settlements decreased from 16.3% to just 13.6%.

While concerns over the quality of education offered in schools across South Africa remain, however, the enrollment figures at secondary school level according to the World Bank Development Indicators, stand at almost 100%. Coupled with this, Stats SA found that the majority of young people aged 20 to 34 have a higher level of education than their parents.

This suggests, at the bare minimum, that South Africa’s democratic dividend is being enjoyed by its citizens. This, however, is an incomplete narrative, as governance failures in key state institutions, including organs of state, threaten the hard-won freedoms which the 1994 ballot box assured.  These failings in turn, erode the democratic dividend which the constitutional democracy supposedly assures. As such, while South Africa, relative to its counterparts on the African continent, may score favourably on the Democracy Index (the Index), a closer inspection reveals that this classification is that of a ‘flawed democracy’. Using indicators such as functioning of government, political participation, political culture and human rights, the Index shows that South Africa, despite an entrenched human rights culture, has problems of poor governance. This poor governance problem is coupled with underdeveloped political culture, as well as low levels of political participation. 

South Africa finds itself on the cusp of political changes, including other ‘hot potato’ issues such as possible amendments to the property clause in the Constitution, as well as ensuring a sustainable free higher education funding model. This requires astute and ethical leadership across all sectors of society. In forging ahead, the preamble in the Constitution contains an injunction to “improve the quality of life of all citizens and free the potential of each person”. This should serve as a beacon to ensure increased and improved dividends of democracy. 

By Ms Phephelaphi Dube: Director, Centre for Constitutional Rights
30 April 2018