Article from ROAPE Volume 24 Number 72
Liberal Democracy vs. Popular Democracy in Southern Africa

Liberal Democracy vs. Popular Democracy in Southern Africa
Vol.24 No.72 (June 1997), pp219-236
This article accompanies an essay reviewing recent literature on ‘transitions to democracy’ , which we publish in our next issue. There Saul contrasts two approaches to the understanding of democratisation. Both see transition as part of a larger political and economic process; for one this limits the possible scope and sustainability of democratisation, while for the other it threatens but also enhances its scope and strength. The latter approach, older and currently less fashionable, sees democratisation (and its analysis) as rooted in processes of imperialism, class struggle and state-society relations. This ‘political economy of democratisation’ approach, characteristic of the work of Shivji and Saul, contrasts with a larger, more pessimistic body of work, which Saul labels the ‘political science of democratisation’ . While sometimes used in suggestive ways, it can narrow debate disastrously when detached from any self-conscious mooring in the critical traditions of political economy. This literature stresses the necessity of democratic institutions and values, but argues that only highly attenuated versions are currently feasible: ‘if reform is to be adopted without provoking a crisis’ , then it must be reform consistent with the demands of capital and the neo-liberalism of the IFIs. This companion article analyses two highly significant cases of transition in southern Africa; each seems to epitomise the ‘political science’ approach, yet to contain the longer term possibility of ‘popular democracy’ . Thus in South Africa the left accepted the necessity of a carefully negotiated transition to obviate the risk of civil war. However, the ANC, to retain the ‘confidence’ of local and external capital and of foreign governments, has had to demobilise its (non-electoral) popular support, and to abandon a social redistributive strategy in favour of a one dominated by neo-liberal ‘market solutions’ . What keeps a progressive agenda alive in these conditions are the pressures from trade unions, civics, women's organisations etc, where there are growing signs, at least at grassroots level, of resistance to the ANC's new project. In Mozambique, the transition has been less euphoric, more perhaps a matter of transition from authoritarian rule and from war than to a democratic regime. As in South Africa, the transition would seem to disempower popular forces - but outside the electoral arena, there are instances of resistance and struggle within civil society, which may carry with them the longer-term potential for the growth of popular democracy.