The existence of a dominant-party system in South Africa has raised growing concerns over its implications for the consolidation of democracy. This paper argues that while there appears to be no real threat to democracy in South Africa it does face several challenges, and successful democratic consolidation will depend upon alertness to signs of undemocratic practices associated with dominant-party systems. It is crucial to ensure that government remains accountable to its citizens. The ANC has demonstrated commitment to democratic principles and there remains sufficient debate and activism within society to keep a check on authoritarian tendencies. However, South African politics is characterised by weak opposition parties that continue to be associated with racial identity and hold little credibility amongst the electorate. South Africans also continue to vote in racial blocs, and the existence of a dominant party and a weak opposition has resulted in emerging voter apathy and withdrawal amongst some sections of the electorate. If the opposition is to fulfil its role in safeguarding accountability and democratic practice it must regain credibility and break away from racial politics to appeal to the African community. Civil society’s role in ensuring government accountability is also pivotal, particularly in the absence of a strong political opposition. The left-wing members of the ANC and its allies face similar challenges – they must work to retain their leverage and political influence within the Tripartite Alliance.
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Categories: Journal of African Elections