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South Africa's report card on democracy gets worse

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•  A version of this post appeared on the blog "Freedom at Issue." The views expressed are the author's own.

After a smooth start in the early post-apartheid period, South Africa’s ruling party, the African National Congress (ANC), is increasingly afflicted by contradictions between its idealistic principles and the baser behaviors of many of its officeholders. These behaviors currently include threats to institute tighter controls over the judiciary and the ANC’s civil society critics, especially the independent media. A discernable trend toward intolerance of judicial brakes on executive power, and also toward a general aversion to any criticism of executive policies and actions, raises troubling questions about the future of democratic governance in South Africa.

 The South Africa chapter of Human Rights Watch’s 2012 World Report states that the country “continues to grapple with corruption, growing social and economic inequalities, and the weakening of state institutions by partisan appointments and one-party dominance.” The 2011 Mo Ibrahim Index of African Governance shows that although South Africa ranks fifth overall among African governments, its scores have consistently declined over the past five years, with a significant reduction in scores for rule of law, accountability, and participation. Freedom House’s Freedom of the Press report downgraded South Africa from Free to Partly Free status in 2010. With the recent passage in the National Assembly of a bill aimed at prohibiting public access to information about many decisions and acts of government officials, the downward trajectory appears set to continue. In South Africa and elsewhere, many people who were inspired by the liberation of the country from apartheid are asking with concern, “What’s happening?”

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