Africa Center Research Paper No. 3

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Stress-Testing South Africa: The Tenuous Foundations of One of Africa’s Stable States

By Assis Malaquias

July 31, 2011

SA police

Political violence in South Africa is worsening and indicates the country’s potential fragility. Since the end of apartheid, steadily rising inequality has deepened the divide between a wealthy minority and a poor majority. Frustration with an uneven pace of change often ignites into violent protest. Elite competition for financial and political resources available through the state also drives violence within and between competing political parties, usually at the local level where intimidation and assassination are sometimes used to ensure electoral success. Much competition exists in a grey area where the distinction between politics and crime is blurred.

South Africans still overwhelmingly support the democratic process and view the government as legitimate. From this foundation the state can move to head off emerging political violence and stem ebbing public trust. This will require breaking up the current intertwining of political authority and economic opportunity. Citizens must also see tangible evidence that government is interested in the socioeconomic priorities of ordinary people.

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Publication Type: Research Papers