02:56 am
27 October 2016

South Africa’s Promise Is Democracy

Regarding F.W. de Klerk’s “The Betrayal of Mandela’s Promise” (op-ed, Aug. 20): The struggle against apartheid was never principally about economic imperatives, as he seems to suggest. Instead, the struggle aimed to vanquish the apartheid regime and unshackle South Africans from a state that banned their words, restricted their movements and trammeled on their God-given rights.

South Africa’s ruling African National Congress (ANC) is hardly faultless today, of course. Many of its policies that Mr. de Klerk decries—from the appointment of venal officials, to the tolerance of graft, to the heavy-handed state intervention in the economy—are indeed misguided and hampering economic growth.

It is precisely the democratic institutions that Mr. de Klerk’s National Party long foreclosed that offer the greatest hope for change today. South Africa’s 1996 constitution gives all its citizens the capacity to elect their lawmakers and the agency to determine their own fate. The country’s leading opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, is now being ably led and is offering a credible alternative to the ANC’s policies. And Thulisile Madonsela, South Africa’s public protector, is working assiduously and without fear or favor in her pursuit of exposing corruption and holding leaders to account.

Liberal democracy is perhaps the greatest force for good the world has ever known. But the promise of democracy has never been to guarantee high rates of economic growth, low levels of unemployment or even to achieve perfect consensus. Rather, its premise has always been a government that secures the freedoms of self-expression, self-efficacy and self-determination for all. And that is democratic South Africa’s greatest virtue of all.