Reviewed by J. Michael Williams (Department of Political Science and International Relations, University of San Diego)
Published on H-SAfrica (June, 2003)
Similar to his previous works, Politics in South Africa: From Mandela to Mbeki by Tom Lodge provides yet another comprehensive analysis of South African politics. It is well suited for those who have some existing knowledge of South Africa as well as those who are new to the field. In fact, because it covers so many important topics, combining rich, detailed examples with more abstract and theoretical concerns, it is appropriate for an undergraduate- or graduate-level course on South African politics.
As the title of the book suggests, the central theme is an assessment of South Africa's political development since 1994, with a special emphasis on the post-Mandela period. Each chapter focuses on a particular policy, reform, or issue that is essential to South Africa's political, social, and economic transformation. In this vein, the book includes an assessment of the RDP policy, land reform, regional government, local government reform and municipal elections, corruption, the truth and reconciliation process, the growth of civil society, the African Renaissance, and Mbeki's leadership style.
Conceptually, each chapter relates to the broader question of democratic consolidation and the extent to which newly established state institutions are implementing democratic values and practices. Specifically, Lodge's analysis raises the question of what type of democracy South Africa is becoming and what the role of the state is in this process. Lodge clearly demonstrates that as this process unfolds, South African political elites are often pulled in two different directions. In terms of state building, there is an attempt to establish a liberal state (one that maintains balanced budgets, protects property rights, relies upon the market to redistribute resources, and devolves power to regional and local governments) while simultaneously there is the desire to deliver services efficiently and quickly, which may mean more public spending, state redistribution of resources, and greater central government control over policy making and policy implementation. In terms of democracy, Lodge gives many examples that exemplify the tension between the establishment of a consensus-style democracy and one based more on majoritarian principles. Interestingly, because the ANC is the dominant party in South Africa, many of these struggles are occurring within the ANC alliance itself, as its various factions seek to realize their own particular understanding of democracy.
In the first chapter, Lodge asks, who rules South Africa? He dismisses arguments, made by some members of the ANC, that, despite the ANC's political victory in 1994, "real power" still resides amongst the white, business interests. After analyzing some of the most important policies implemented from 1994, Lodge concludes that the governing alliance (the ANC, COSATU, and SACP) do have the power to change the political and economic structures even though the alliance does not necessarily have a monopoly over state decision making. Although the alliance has been forced to make some important concessions to different interests, Lodge argues that the electoral victory in 1994 "did indeed signify a profound change in the distribution and shape of power relations in South Africa" (p. 20). Rather than conceptualizing the South African state as an instrument of a particular interest, Lodge suggests that it has developed into a quasi-pluralistic state where "no social group holds undisputed power" (p. 31). In the end, in terms of establishing and consolidating a liberal democracy, this should be seen as a positive development.
Chapter 2 focuses attention on regional government and considers the ability of these governments to deliver resources and the effect this type of structure has on intra-party relations within the ANC. One of the most interesting points in this chapter is on the importance of patronage politics for regional leaders and how this type of politics both hinders and promotes the delivery of resources. Lodge argues that while the local patronage networks established at the regional level can prove frustrating to national ANC political elites, these networks may also increase the legitimacy of the government because "the existence of a well-organised patronage system which distributes political goods quite widely may make government seem accessible and responsive at least to those citizens who benefit" (p. 51). For those interested in the politics of federalism, this chapter provides many illustrative examples of the difficulties, both political and economic, of devolving power to sub-governmental units, even when the same party controls all levels of government.
Chapters 3 through 6 focus on some of the most important policies and reforms that have been instituted since 1994: the Reconstruction and Development Program (RDP), land reform, local government reform, and the 2000 municipal elections. In each case, Lodge makes clear that the government has faced significant challenges and that it has been difficult for it to deliver as quickly and as efficiently as it had hoped. These challenges have been both internal and external, as the reforms have faced resistance from different interests within the government as well as from groups in civil society. With respect to the RDP, Lodge nicely summarizes the goals of this policy, its ability to deliver on these goals (in terms of both quantity and quality), and the manner in which the underlying policy has changed, especially since the implementation of the Growth, Employment, and Redistribution strategy (GEAR). He concludes that while the RDP did meet some of its stated goals, the program was ultimately only a partial success. As Lodge points out, whether one considers the RDP a success or failure depends on what measures are considered. For example, while the government has been able to bring a range of services to poorer areas of the country, the implementation of these projects has become much more state-directed and top-down, in contrast to the initial goal that service delivery would be a "people-driven process" (p. 69). Similarly, the land reform process has not proceeded as efficiently or as quickly as planned. The main culprits here are differences of opinion within the government itself, which resulted in Derek Hanekom being replaced by Thoko Didiza in 1999, as well as resistance from traditional leaders to the reform process (p. 83).
Most political elites, as well as many NGOs, agree that local government is crucial for efficient service delivery and for democratic consolidation. With this in mind, in 2000 the ANC implemented local government reforms that sought to streamline its functions and structure. Not surprisingly, local politicians, interest groups, and traditional leaders have resisted many of these changes because one of the consequences has been the restructuring of local power relationships. It is too early to know whether these reforms will establish more effective local governments, but Lodge does note that most local governments have very few resources at their disposal and that this may prove detrimental to service delivery and local government performance (p. 96). Equally important, Lodge notes in chapter 6 that while the ANC was able to win a vast majority of seats at this level, there is increasing anger that there has not been more efficient delivery of services through local governmental institutions. He examines the different policy agendas of each party and then focuses on how each party is trying to deal with issues of corruption, accountability, and implementation of development programs. In the end, Lodge acknowledges the importance of local government for democratic consolidation, but suggests that most reforms instituted at the local level will not be successful until "more equitable resource allocation and tougher ethical standards" are implemented (p. 128).
Chapter 7 focuses on the degree of political corruption since 1994. Here Lodge compares corruption in South Africa to other African countries. His central question is whether South Africa is destined to emulate other African countries that have struggled with controlling political corruption. He considers the different factors that account for corruption in developing countries, such as more state intervention in the economy and the utilization of external sources of revenue rather than personal taxation. His final analysis is somewhat optimistic as he finds not only much less corruption in South Africa, but also far fewer incentives for corruption in South Africa than in other African countries. Not surprisingly, he finds that corruption is more prevalent where the government has merged former homeland administrations into the new state structures than in regions where this was not the case.
I found chapter 8 to be one of the more interesting chapters in the book as Lodge examines how the existence of a dominant party system might affect the process of democratic consolidation. While there are coherent opposition parties in South Africa, these parties are regionally based and pose no real threat to the ANC in the near future. The ANC itself, however, is prone to factionalism, and thus, is perhaps more "susceptible to various kinds of democratic pressure than the disciplined monolith depicted both in the critical evaluations of the ANC as the harbinger of an authoritarian order and its own official prescriptions of Leninist democracy" (p. 162). Still, since 1999, the ANC has sought to limit dissent within the party, which is seen in the lawmaking process in parliament as well as its political appointments to senior civil service positions (p. 167). Resisting the dominance of the ANC is a vibrant civil society, led by an independent press and numerous civic associations.
Lodge continues this analysis of civil society and state-societal relations in chapter 10. He applies Putnam's theory of social capital and makes some interesting findings. In particular, Lodge notes that while a robust associational life in South Africa seems to have increased trust in government (consistent with Putnam's thesis), he also finds that it has not increased the amount of trust between individuals in civil society (inconsistent with Putnam's thesis). For anyone interested in civil society and the importance of social capital, this chapter offers many interesting examples and hypotheses that could be the foundation for subsequent research. As for democratic consolidation in South Africa, in the end, these chapters suggest that while South Africa's democracy is progressing, it still shows signs of vulnerability.
In chapter 9, Lodge examines the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and concludes that it should be seen as a success, especially when compared to other commissions that were established in Chile, Argentina, and El Salvador. He also argues that the TRC might be evaluated more favorably if there were subsequent prosecutions against those who chose not to seek amnesty and if the reparations process would have been handled more efficiently.
The final two chapters focus on the African Renaissance and the performance of the government under the leadership of Thabo Mbeki. The chapter on Mbeki is somewhat biographical as Lodge sketches Mbeki's political education and experience as a starting point to analyze his leadership style. Lodge offers a fair and balanced evaluation of Mbeki that addresses the central criticisms that have been leveled against him as well as offering some justifications for Mbeki's more controversial decisions. In this vein, Lodge devotes a substantial part of the chapter to Mbeki's handling, or mishandling, of the government's HIV-AIDS policy, providing a detailed analysis of the evolution of the government's controversial stance on this issue. While I think this issue provides a good example of Mbeki's leadership style, and thus, fits well within this chapter, I was left wondering whether Lodge might have devoted an entire chapter to the issue of HIV-AIDS given how important and complex this matter is for South Africans.
The chapter on the African Renaissance is important because it puts in stark relief the different values and principles that provide the basis for the government's political legitimacy. Lodge points out that the idea of "African Renaissance" predates Mbeki's use of the term in 1997 and that it refers to two ideas that have been central not only to South Africa's political development, but for African states across the continent: the reconciliation of what many refer to as modernity and tradition. While admitting that "what constitutes tradition is always a contested issue" and that "there is no such thing as one set of traditions," Lodge acknowledges that it is part of the political rhetoric and, I would add, has real consequences for policy implementation (pp. 235-236). Indeed, this chapter links nicely with the book's prologue where Lodge demonstrates Nelson Mandela's desire to combine the most useful and "progressive" ideals of rural governance with those of Western liberal democracy to create a more authentic South African democracy. The broader question raised in Lodge's observations is how South Africa will ultimately reconcile these seemingly contradictory impulses and values to establish a legitimate political and social order.
Politics in South Africa: From Mandela to Mbeki is a must read for anyone interested in the last ten years of South African politics. Lodge offers a comprehensive analysis that contains illustrative examples, a complete bibliography, and an analysis of important conceptual issues such as democratic consolidation, civil society, and political legitimacy.
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J. Michael Williams. Review of Lodge, Tom, Politics in South Africa: From Mandela to Mbeki.
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