When a country such as South Africa, or for that matter most African nations, changes governing power, a sufficiently stable social basis is vital to the survival and consolidation of the new political system and transition to democracy. The history of the de-colonization of Africa forewarned South Africa allowing it to prepare for the ensuing changes it faced in the early nineties. South Africa made adequate reforms in its military in order to make the transition to democracy smooth, peaceful, and successful however despite its efforts many of the formal political changes in South Africa were not accompanied by sufficient social change. Although South Africa did have many problems in its transition, it was better prepared for the change to a true democracy than most of the other African countries at the time.
In its transition to democracy, South Africa was quite different from the rest of the African countries because a single race democracy already existed. Prior to 1994 there were general elections with an elected official made president, however the elections only included the white portion of the population. In all of the other African countries the transition to democracy was from an authoritarian colonial rule, not from a single race democracy (Bratton 68).
South Africa was also different from the other African countries that were moving towards democracy at the time because of its military structure. The Chief of Defense Force, the head South African military officer, was responsible to the Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee and thus could not make decisions that were not approved by a larger body. As long as the public perceived that the government had control of the army, it would not hinder its attempts at keeping the peace during the transition to a multi-racial democracy. The army and its actions were legitimized by the government and thus did not need to use force in order to coerce the public into supporting them (Griffiths 397).
When it made the transition to a true democracy, South Africa was better prepared than the other democratizing African countries in relation to military readiness, economic standing, and the level of education amongst the general population. Despite being better prepared than most, South Africa was in no way fully prepared, and as recent history has already proved South Africa has encountered problems with its transition to a multi-racial democracy.
According to Robert J. Griffiths, “one crucial element of successful democratic transition and consolidation is an alteration in the pattern of civil-military relations” (395). During the rule of apartheid in South Africa the South African Defense Forces (SADF) played an extremely important role in maintaining the governments control over its citizens (Griffiths 395). In order for the change from South Africa’s racially exclusive democracy to a multi-racial democracy to work, the SADF would have to decrease its influence over the government’s decision making. Additionally, they needed to integrate the army so that it was proportionately equal to South Africa’s race distribution, and change its political stance on apartheid to one that supports the emerging government (Griffiths 399). “Through their pervasive presence and repeated interventions in postcolonial African politics, military forces could be expected to play major roles,” and that is exactly what the SADF ended up doing (Bratton 85). This was also true for Uganda and Nigeria where their civil military relations played a pivotal role in their transitions of government.
During the eighties President P.W. Botha turned South Africa into a “militarized state” by heavily involving the military in government decision making in order to assure protection from what he perceived as threats to apartheid (Griffiths 400). Prior to the first multi-racial democratic elections in South Africa, a peacekeeping force was needed to prevent possible riots and civil disobedience. The government was reluctant to put the SADF in charge of this because of fears that the military would not uphold the law, but rather riot themselves, in protest of the elections. A peacekeeping force of 10,000 men was put together but failed to curb the violence in South Africa and was quickly replaced by the SADF (Griffiths 400).
The combination of knowing that a coup would be impossible and disastrous and the fact that the SADF is held accountable for its actions by the South African Parliament kept the military from interfering in a negative way with the elections (Griffiths 401 – 406). As a result of prior planning and smart leadership, the SADF successfully controlled the citizens and helped in the transition towards democracy.
Despite what might look like a successful and complete change in civil-military policy, the SADF still has many problems that need to be addressed. “The complex network of security structures established under apartheid, diffused power throughout the defense establishment, making it more difficult to assure the security forces’ compliance with the transition goals” (Griffiths 400). Additionally, the system that is setup as a check by the parliament on military power is not as efficient as it might seem. During P.W. Botha’s, rule the military gained a large amount of leeway in terms of what it could do (Griffiths 401). The members of parliament responsible for questioning the actions of the SADF never fully utilized their power as a result of a lack of knowledge of the subject and were content with taking the explanations offered to them, as opposed to doing research on their own (Griffiths 401). The last major issue the army faced was that of racial integration. Many white soldiers and high-ranking officers had been in the army for many years during apartheid and as a result were extremely racist. They feared losing their positions to “less adequate” black soldiers and officers who would replace them in order to create a more racially proportionate army. The SADF saw the integration of soldiers that were not trained by the SADF as a “threat to the integrity of the armed forces” (Griffiths 402). They claimed that the black soldiers who were coming from the African National Congress’s military wing (Umkhonto we Sizwe or MK) were not properly trained to be incorporated at the command level (Griffiths 402).
South Africa’s military faced many problems in its endeavor to change civil-military policy so that it supported democracy, but Nigeria and Uganda faced even greater obstacles. In contrast to the SADF, the Nigerian military actively hindered Nigeria’s attempt at democratizing. After the incumbent government planned for months and then actually held fully democratic elections, which went rather smoothly and without incident, the Nigerian military stepped in and “ambushed” the elections. The incumbent, Ibrahim Babangida had lost to Chief Moshood Abiola and quickly declared the elections invalid, claiming that there was “widespread corruption and fraud” (Bratton 86). Babangida created a temporary government that was headed by a civilian and then shortly after was ousted by General Sani Abacha. The military had installed itself at every level of the Nigerian government and completely took over the attempt at a democratic transition.
The Nigerian army did not have any formal checks within the government and as a result became in affect its own political entity. The SADF had abstained from attempting to overthrow the South African government because of its knowledge of the probable outcome. The Nigerian army had likewise made its attempt to overthrow the government because of its knowledge of the fact that there would be nothing to stand in its way. Greed and corruption within the Nigerian army, in addition to the lack of a realistic check to its power lead it towards the actions it took which inevitably halted the democratic transition in Nigeria (Stamets 1).
Uganda faced even more severe problems with its government and military in reference to its attempt at democratizing. After 15 years of lawlessness and fighting under the tyranny of Idi Amin, Mr. Museveni took over the Ugandan government in a military backed coup. The military was in a fragile state in the early nineties, making an attempt at democracy potentially dangerous (Fitzgerald 1). Uganda faces many challenges in military reform before it can make an attempt at democratizing. Corruption along all levels and reports of severe human rights abuse plagues the military. Reports from Uganda indicate that anywhere between 500 and 1000 civilians were being held captive in military bases without adequate health care or food (Musoke 2). The Ugandan army also faced a major issue with AIDS amongst many of its leading officers who had contracted the disease in the eighties. This lead to a loss of trained manpower in the army as many of them began to die from the virus (Fitzgerald 4). Uganda’s military was becoming increasingly unstable and corrupt in a time where military backing was needed the most. “The role of the military is still considerable. It sits on all the groups responsible for policy, legislation and the drafting of the constitution…Considerable challenges lie ahead that could place severe strain on the ad hoc political system” (Fitzgerald 4). Similar to the case of South Africa, the Ugandan army needed an enormous amount of reforms if the political structure was going to change to one of democracy and civilian rule.
Despite South Africa’s attempt at effective policy changes to make the transition to a multi-racial democracy, adequate social changes were not in place to prevent other problems that were steadily growing. One of the difficult problems that the new government faced was a struggling economy and a level of income too low to sustain a large portion of the population. “Without economic growth the chances of a successful transition to democracy are rather slim” and thus the emerging South African government faced a daunting task (Esterhuyse 23).
According to surveys at the time, 40% of the black population in South Africa in the early nineties were unemployed. Five percent of the population controlled 88% of the wealth, and 60% of the black population that were employed did not make a sufficient amount of money to maintain a minimum subsistence (“Social Conditions” 2). South Africa faced a serious problem as it moved towards democracy, the majority of its citizens were not able to provide for themselves and the economy was destined to crash. One solution that was proposed was to increase taxes dramatically on those who were well off, but this would have lead to a decrease in productivity (“Living Standards” 2). South Africa, before it abolished apartheid, suffered economic sanctions from almost every country in the world in addition to the refusal of the World Bank and the IMF to lend it any money until it changed its laws. The economy was slowly dying and causing a potentially explosive problem for the future if something was not done soon (“Social Conditions” 1).
South Africa faced a dilemma over what to do about the disparity between the classes. In order to provide equal services for blacks and whites following the elections, the government would have to increase its budget for black health care and pensions fivefold. After all new expenditures are added into the total percent of GDP spent on the public would rise from 10% in 1992 to 31% in 1994 (“Living Standards” 3). South Africa’s economy was not capable of handling this, but in order to make the transition to democracy it had to find a way. Some companies have begun housing projects that propose to build 200,000 houses a year and provide electricity to over a million annually (“Living Standards” 4). In addition exports to other countries had begun to rise and the government took advantage of this to lead the country into a period of sustained growth. According to some, these measures might even have been adequate enough to make noticeable positive effects in the labor market by the year 2005 (“Living Standards” 5).
Unfortunately for Zambia, another country that was just entering into a democracy in the late eighties, its’ economic situation was worse than that of South Africa, and its future held no hope (EIU 11). The Zambian government faced a “Herculean economic task” when it came into power in 1991, with the GDP down 1.8 percent making it the third consecutive year of GDP contraction (EIU 4). The food, beverages, and tobacco industries were down 28 percent from the previous year, the maize crop was the worst the country had seen in years, and the mining industry remained weak and inadequate (EIU 11). President Chiluba, the newly elected democratic leader of Zambia, was left to deal with one of the worst economic situations any country had faced in decades.
Zambia’s need to revive the economy immediately following the elections made the transition to democracy significantly more difficult and unstable (EIU 4). The previous government of Dr. Kaunda, rife with corruption, had left the economy in disarray causing all outside support to halt and leaving the country with no help. After skipping out on paying millions of dollars worth of debt back to the rightful owners and not going ahead with agreed upon changes within the reform program, Dr. Kaunda was voted out and it was time for Chiluba to take over (EIU 11).
Zimbabwe also faced similar economic problems when it was decolonized and moved towards a democracy in 1980. The previous government had been controlled by whites resulting in an uneven distribution of economic resources in the country (Ministry of Foreign Affairs 1). In addition, the emerging government had to deal with a 46% inflation rate and a sharp fall in both national and foreign investment following the elections of 1980 (Ministry of Foreign Affairs 1). Many countries feared the “unstable economic policies” and as result withdrew their investments leading to a decrease in the amount of available jobs and a considerable slow down of the economy (“Equity Growth or Both?” 1). The new government’s attempt at fixing the problems the previous government had left behind lead to increased spending on social provisions such as education and health and increased the countries deficit to an almost uncontrollable level. As a result inflation continued to rise and large external debts began to accumulate (“Equity Growth or Both?” 1). “Social hardship and unemployment among certain groups in urban areas that have been hard hit by the demand-damping repercussions of the reforms and redundancies in the public sector, have given rise to considerable political censure” (Ministry of Foreign Affairs 1). In a time when the government was just establishing itself it began to encounter criticism and considerable resistance. According to Thomas Bvuma the government was not capable of pursuing “apparently incompatible objectives, democracy and national development,” and thus would have to handle the economic problems prior to shifting its efforts towards a true democracy (Bvuma 1).
Another problem that South Africa was facing during its transition to a multi-racial democracy was poor public education. During the years of apartheid adequate schooling was not provided for black South African’s resulting in a large population of formally uneducated people. White South Africans make up about 12% of the population in South Africa while blacks make up nearly 80%. Of the 40 million blacks in South Africa, 33% percent consider themselves illiterate and 66% of the working black population have only had primary school education or less (“Social Conditions” 1). In the midst of the change of governments many white schools were being closed due to a lack of students to fill the classrooms, while black schools were suffering from extreme overcrowding and a lack of funding. Additionally, only about one third of the black population that was in school were actually passing their graduation exams. This coupled with the fact that “many thousands of black children were un-enrolled” created a massive problem for the new government to deal with (“Social Conditions” 2). According to Willie Esterhuyse, South Africa’s transition to democracy was hindered by its need to improve the schooling and general level of education. Revival of South Africa’s economy was crucial to its transition into democracy, and this could not have been fully achieved without the “restructuring of the educational system and the development of a partnership between government and business on skills oriented education and training” (Esterhuyse 26).
Mozambique faced similar problems during its transition to democracy. Portuguese colonialism used the country for cheap labor as opposed to a site for investment and thus left it in ruins when the Mozambican Liberation Front finally gained control. During colonialism there were three divisions of schools, public and private school for colonists, and then assimilados for the “natives.” Coupling the fact that there were too few assimilados to accommodate the natives with the fact that the teachers at the assimilados had inadequate training, meant that natives were not receiving a proper education. The average pass rate of native students was only 30% during Portuguese colonialism (Carnoy and Samoff 277). Following Mozambique’s independence, “academic quality as measured by the exam system did not improve; learning quality was low, and the dropout and failure rates were high” (Carnoy and Samoff 292). In 1984 only 18% of the students enrolled in classes with the equivalence to the fourth grade in America were passing, while fewer than 12% of the adults in the same level classes were doing the same (Carnoy and Samoff 297 – 300). “All transition strategies involve, in some sense, mass mobilization—and a crucial element in mobilizing masses is education,” something Mozambicans at the time were lacking (Carnoy and Samoff 13). Soon after Mozambique’s de-colonization the country entered into a 16-year civil war which left it in ruins. (Phinny 2) In the mid 90’s when it began to make its first movement towards democracy it also had to keep in mind that “satisfying the demand for education was fundamental to the legitimacy of the new state” (Carnoy and Samoff 309).
South Africa has by no means completed all of the necessary steps to bring it into the 21st century as a fully developed and prosperous stable democracy, but it has made significant progress. The military has maintained its stance as pro-democratic and successfully kept the peace throughout the transition to democracy. Recent education reforms are helping increase the standards of learning in South Africa, and the economy is slowly reviving (Matloff 1). Despite this, there are still other problems such as health care, the tax system, immigration control and additional improvements of the aforementioned that need to be dealt with, before the country can reach a stable equilibrium conducive to democracy. Countries such as Nigeria, Uganda, Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe are also making the necessary reforms from which to establish a stable basis for democracy to grow. South Africa’s history of a strong and stable government, despite its lack of a multi-racial democracy has provided a stronger foothold for the new government making its’ job slightly easier than those of the other current democratizing countries in Africa.
“There is a growing threat of crime and general lawlessness which, unless the South African government can control, will derail overseas investment which is vital to the future of a stable economy and social reform” (Kurland). In order for the process of democratization to be successful throughout the various African countries, they must simultaneously deal with political and social reforms to improve the country’s economy, education, and military. Establishing a stable basis for the new government to develop from is vital if democracy is going to take root and last. “Insofar as democratization involves the institutionalization of procedures for popular government, precious little time was available for such procedures to take root, implying that the consolidation of democratic institutions in Africa will be problematic in years to come” (Bratton 71).
Bratton, Michael. “Deciphering Africa’s Divergent Transitions.” Political
Science Quarterly Volume 112 Number 1 1997: 67-93.
Bvuma, Thomas S. “Having it Both Ways: Dual Policy Analysis and Evaluation of
Zimbabwe Government. Information Policy 1980 – 1998.” Department of Media
and Communication 12 October 1998. Online. Available: www.media.uio.no. Carnoy, Joel Samoff. Education and Social Transition in the Third World. New Jersey:
Princeton University Press, 1990.
Esterhuyse, Willie. “Scenarios for South Africa—Instability and Violence or Negotiated
Transition.” Long Range Planning June 1992: 21-26.
Fitzgerald, Mary A. “A Treacherous Climb Up Democracy’s Slope; Musevni Takes On
the Difficult Task of Converting to a Multiparty State.” International Herald
Tribune 9 October 1992.
Griffiths, Robert J. “South African Civil-Military Relations in Transition: Issues and
Influences.” Armed Forces and Society Spring 1995: 395-407.
Jenkins and John Knight. “Equity, growth or both? Juggling lessons from Zimbabwe for
post-apartheid South Africa.” ID21 22 July 1998. 3. Online. Available: www.id21.org.
Kurland, Michael. South African citizen currently residing in South Africa. Personal
Interview. 27 November 1999.
“Living Standards In South Africa.” The Economist 29 February 1992: 21.
Matloff, Judith. “South African Schools Struggle to Make Grade.” The Christian Science
Monitor 9 January 1996: 10.
Musoke, David. “Uganda: Lawyers Criticize Army for Civilian Detentions.” Inter
Press Service 7 May 1991.
Phinny, Robert H. “The start of a parade of African democracies?” The Houston
Chronicle 26 December 1994: A19.
“Social Conditions.” The PRS Group 1 September 1992.
Stamets, Reena S. “In Nigeria, like rest of Africa, Military wields uniform power.”
St. Petersburg Times 5 December 1993: 18A.
“Zambia.” The Economist Intelligence Unit No 1 (1992): 4-11.
“Zimbabwe.” Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Online. Internet. 3 December 1999. Available: