Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 12/2011

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

Assis Malaquias

July 2011

Africa Center for Strategic Studies


South Africa’s transition from apartheid to democracy in 1994 was expected to usher in a new era of peace, stability, and accelerated development. However, despite widespread optimism, political violence has persisted. Although a fraction of that experienced under apartheid, levels of political violence are worsening and indicative of the country’s potential fragility. They also map out the fault lines along which South Africa may yet stumble. Political violence in South Africa is primarily driven by poverty, inequality, and patronage. Limited economic growth, institutional incapacity, and restricted educational opportunities have resulted in a post-apartheid democratic state that has been slow to create jobs or supply housing, water, sanitation, and other services that many South Africans expect. Although overall levels have decreased since 1994, poverty remains both endemic and acute across the country. Simultaneously, and even more problematically for stability, inequality has risen steadily, leaving society deeply divided between a wealthy minority and a poor majority. Within this context, frustration with the slow and uneven pace of service delivery often ignites into violent protest.