Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act, 1949


To prohibit marriages between Europeans and non-Europeans, and to provide for matters incidental thereto.


(English text signed by the Governor-General.)

(Assented to 1st July, 1949.)


BE IT ENACTED by the King’s Most Excellent Majesty, the Senate and the House of Assembly of the Union of South Africa, as follows:―

1. (1) As from the date of commencement of this Act a marriage between a European and a non-European may not be solemnized, and any such marriage solemnized in contravention of the provisions of this section shall be void and of no effect: Provided that— (a) any such marriage shall be deemed to be valid, if— (i) it has been solemnized in good faith by a marriage officer, and neither of the parties concerned, or any other person in collusion with one or the other of them, has made any false statement relating to the said marriage amounting to a contravention of section four; and (ii) any party to such marriage professing to be a European or a non-European, as the case may be, is in appearance obviously what he professes to be, or is able to show, in the case of a party professing to be a European, that he habitually consorts with Europeans as a European, or in the case of a party professing to be a non-European, that he habitually consorts with non-Europeans as a non-European; (b) where any such marriage has been solemnized in good faith by a marriage officer, any children born or conceived of such marriage before it has been declared by a competent court to be invalid, shall be deemed to be legitimate. (2) If any male person who is domiciled in the Union enters into a marriage outside the Union which cannot be solemnized in the Union in terms of sub-section (1), then such marriage shall be void and of no effect in the Union.

2. Any marriage officer who knowingly performs a marriage ceremony between a European and a non-European shall be guilty of an offence and liable to a fine not exceeding fifty pounds.

3. Any person who is in appearance obviously a European or a non-European, as the case may be, shall for the purposes of this Act be deemed to be such, unless and until the contrary is proved.

4. Any person who makes a false statement to a marriage officer, relating to the question whether any party seeking to have his marriage solemnized by such marriage officer is a European or a non-European, knowing such statement to be false, shall be guilty of an offence and liable to the penalties prescribed by law for the crime of perjury.

5. This Act shall be called the Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act, 1949.

Tradition and the Top 6

What is this strange thing called the “top six” of the ANC? An historical accident of relatively recent creation, it is not mentioned at all in the movement’s constitution.

For most of the ANC’s history, there have been at most three key national positions: president, treasurer and secretary-general.

The deputy presidency was introduced only in 1958 as part of an exercise in ethnic, regional and generational rebalancing. Two years later, after the banning of the ANC, the exile movement was run by its deputy president, OR Tambo. While Tambo also became “acting president” in 1967, he retained the office of deputy president until 1985, when a still incarcerated Nelson Mandela was “elected” to this position.

The prominent position of secretary-general has changed just as much over the years. Walter Sisulu and Tambo held the office in succession in the 1950s before later ascending to the deputy presidency and presidency, respectively.

In 1991, Cyril Ramaphosa defeated both the incumbent Alfred Nzo, and Jacob Zuma, for the position. Kgalema Motlanthe and then Gwede Mantashe succeeded him, creating a new “tradition”: an unbroken succession of former National Union of Mineworkers leaders in the post. The position of national chairman was created only in 1991. The office has no obvious function other than as a parking space for those with long-term ambitions, but it nonetheless carries prestige and expresses “seniority”.

The treasurer-general post has become more important as “donations” have become the lifeblood of a spendthrift movement. Incumbents Mathews Phosa and Zweli Mkhize have had a higher profile, and greater ambition, than their predecessors.

Can the past of the top six tell us anything about the likely future of the current incumbents? Under Mandela, the presidency rose in status, in part because of the exile movement’s elaboration of a “Mandela myth”. The linkage of the position to the state presidency thereafter allowed the incumbent to combine state and party mechanisms of control. This means all eyes are now on this big prize.

The deputy presidency, by contrast, is important primarily as an ostensible stepping stone to the presidency. Thabo Mbeki followed this route, becoming ANC deputy president in 1994 and ANC president in 1997. But Mandela arguably only succeeded to the presidency in 1991 because Tambo was ill.

Walter Sisulu, the deputy elected in 1991, did not go on to become president. He was elevated to the position to stop a battle between the real contenders for presidential power: Mbeki and Chris Hani.

Jacob Zuma was probably elected deputy only because Mbeki believed he could destroy him before he could rise to the very top. Zuma may have made the same fatal misjudgment when he selected his deputy, Ramaphosa, at the Mangaung conference in 2012.

If Ramaphosa seizes the presidency in December, the “stepping stone” status of the deputy presidency will become firmly established.

Little wonder, then, that Mpumalanga chairman David Mabuza and NEC grandee Lindiwe Sisulu, among others, are fiercely jostling for this position: they hope it will take them to the very pinnacle of power five or 10 years hence.

Scrupulous historians will argue that none of this can ever prove the obvious falsehood that the deputy president of the ANC always rises to the presidency, or that such a trajectory is “an ANC tradition”. At the current historical conjuncture, however, the history of the ANC is far easier to change than its future.

• Butler teaches public policy at the University of Cape Town.

A year later, part 2: My response to Dr Lushaba’s “open letter”

I responded to Dr Lushaba’s letter on 10 September 2016. Dr Lushaba’s letter has since been posted on the Internet but my reply has not. I am therefore posting it here for reference purposes. It addresses some of the inaccurate claims made by Dr Lushaba in his open letter about the composition of the student body, the curriculum, and employment equity, as well as requesting that Dr Lushaba correct a fabricated quotation.

Anthony Butler

7 September 2017*

[*I have now included my email to Dr Lushaba as an appendix — AB 14 August 2020.]

10 September 2016

Dear Dr Lushaba

I have decided to respond briefly to your ‘open letter’. Some of the issues you touch on will have to be dealt with collectively in our department meetings. Others can only be discussed in a meeting between the two of us. However, there are several matters of interpretation and clarification that I would like to address, in order to limit confusion on the part of our students, potential applicants, and other external stakeholders.

Curriculum issues

The Department of Political Studies started introducing a new and integrated undergraduate Major in Politics and Governance in January 2016, in place of the three previous Majors in Politics, International Relations, and Public Policy and Administration. All new students admitted since January 2016 now follow the new Major. This was the result of decisions taken during a departmental review in 2014, which identified several weaknesses with the existing Majors.

This Major includes a new emphasis on African and South African Politics. Our first year courses, and POL2038F Comparative Politics, have always drawn heavily on African cases, and this continues to be true. In 2017, we will introduce POL2043S South African Politics. (In the past, SA Politics was only available to a minority of our students taking the old Politics Major.)

In the third year, alongside POL3029F Politics of Africa and the Global South, we are introducing POL3046S South African Political Thought. POL3030F Conflict in World Politics draws heavily on African materials. POL3037F Policy and Administration and POL3038S Urban Politics and Administration focus on governance issues in South Africa.

There is also a new focus on African and South African politics at postgraduate level. Starting in January 2017, the Honours programme in Politics will change its structure. It was previously centred on the discipline of Political Science (as practiced in North America) with a compulsory course, POL4012F, in Comparative Politics.

In January 2016, I proposed the creation of a new programme in African Politics. However, a working group, comprising Dr Thiven Reddy, Dr Zwelethu Jolobe, Dr Lauren Paremoer and Dr Lwazi Lushaba, recommended against this option on a variety of grounds, and in favour of a reorientation of the existing Politics programme.

Early in 2016, the Faculty’s Graduate Programmes Committee approved the addition of a new alternate core course, POL4050S Contemporary Debates in African Politics, to the politics programme. As you know, the course was designed by — and will be taught by – Dr Lwazi Lushaba. You indicated that it would include the following themes:

  • Macro Approaches to the Study of Modern African Politics
  • Colonialism in Africa: An Epoch or an Episode
  • The Post-Colonial State: Its Character and Problems
  • Nationalism(s) and Postcolonial Transformation
  • Politics of Economic Reform (SAP) in the 80’s and 90’s
  • Civil Society and Democratization Debates
  • Ethnic Plurality and the Federal Solution in Africa
  • Contested Citizenship and National Cohesion in Africa
  • Africa in the Modern Ideological Sciences of Man
  • Methodological Questions for the Study of African Politics

At Master’s level, students on the Politics programme will still be encouraged to take courses in data analysis but these will no longer be compulsory. This reflects our commitment to a wide range of approaches to the study of political phenomena. Students will be encouraged to take courses in Global Political Thought (convenor Dr Thiven Reddy), Comparative Politics (convenor Dr Zwelethu Jolobe) and South African Politics (convenor Prof Anthony Butler), among others.

Our other programmes, in IR, transformative justice, and public policy, increasingly have an African and/or South African focus. In International Relations Honours, for example, one key element of the core course is the study of African innovations in IR theory. Our public policy programmes focus on key policy challenges in SA. I am not able to comment in a fully informed way about all of these fields: for further information about our specializations, potential applicants should contact the programme convenors:

  • Politics programmes: Dr Thiven Reddy
  • International Relations programmes: A/Prof John Akokpari
  • Justice and Transformation programmes: Dr Helen Scanlon
  • Public Policy and Administration programmes: Dr Vinothan Naidoo

The overall postgraduate convenor is Dr Zwelethu Jolobe.

Employment equity

Although change in academic departments is sometimes slow, our department has been undergoing quite rapid generational change. One welcome outcome of this process has been the increasing representation of black South Africans and women among the academic staff. We fully expect this trend to continue and we are very active in searching for the best candidates to fill our vacancies while also advancing employment equity.

Staff Employment Equity Profile (2017-)

Full time academic staff (gender)

Male 8
Female 5

Full time academic staff (employment equity category)

Black 3
Col 1
Indian 2
White 4
Other** 3

**Non-SA citizens: 1 from Ghana, 2 from the UK

Postgraduate Recruitment

One response to your letter has been some concern that the department does not encourage applications from black South Africans. The Department collects data on the self-attributed race of the South African citizens admitted to our postgraduate programmes. This data is used for planning purposes and for monitoring the impact of our admissions policies. There has been a significant increase in the number of our postgraduate students who are Black South Africans in recent years, especially at Honours level. We are committed to making further progress in this direction, and especially at Master’s and PhD levels.

Equity category Level of enrolment 2016 Number of students
Black Hons 16
  Master’s 5
  Total Black 21
Coloured Hons 4
  Master’s 9
  Total Coloured 13
Indian Hons 1
  Master’s 2
  Total Indian 3
White Hons 13
  Master’s 10
  Total White 23
Undeclared* Hons 6
Master’s 7
Total Undeclared 13

*The category “undeclared” includes students who did not identify a racial group.

Earlier this year we established a plan further to increase the numbers of Black, Coloured and Indian students at Master’s as well as at Honours level, and to ensure that they thrive in our programmes. All staff members will this year participate in admission decisions in the programmes in which they teach. They will work together to identify students with potential and to support them once they are admitted.

Departmental governance

You identified in your letter what you believe is an unsatisfactory governance system in the Department, and an undemocratic leadership style on the part of the Head of Department. There may well be merit in these claims, although I believe HoDs face more constraints – budgetary, administrative, and legal — than their colleagues often realize.

As you know, my three-year term as HoD comes to an end in December 2016, and I am not putting my name forward for a second term. As I said when I took up the position in 2014, a three-year term is more than long enough for any incumbent. The process for deciding upon a new Head of Department is built upon consultation and consensus and it will undertaken by the faculty in the normal way.

The appointment of a new HoD will, I am sure, bring fresh energy, ideas, and leadership. It will also provide an excellent opportunity for the Department to discuss together how decisions should be taken under the new Head of Department and how the longer term strategic priorities of the department should be collectively identified and realized.

Requested correction

There is one passage in your open letter where I would like to ask for a correction.

In my email to you, I stated that, “I have received complaints from students and parents who believed the POL1005S lecture on 15 August was ‘disrupted’. They were confused about the purpose of the proceedings. They were uncertain about the educational value of the singing.”

You transcribed this as follows:

“[T]he HoD claims in his letter to be writing me because he had received complaints from ‘students and parents who believed the POL 1005S lecture on 15 August was “disrupted”’. They were confused about the purpose of the proceedings. They were uncertain about the educational value of the singing and stomping of feet (italics mine)’.”

I am not concerned here with how this error (the insertion of “stomping of feet (italics mine)” entered your narrative. However, the invention makes me deeply uneasy and I would be grateful if you could correct it in any versions of your letter posted on the Internet.

Towards the future

I know we all have the interests of our students at heart and I believe the Department as a whole has an immensely promising future. It is great privilege to spend time with such talented colleagues, and I am sure that we will all continue to work well together in the years ahead.

Yours sincerely

Prof Anthony Butler

Head of the Department of the Political Studies


10 September 2016

Appendix: Email from Anthony Butler to Lwazi Lushaba, 24 August 2016

From: Anthony Butler
Sent: 24 August 2016 02:38 PM
To: Lwazi Lushaba <>
Cc: Dean of Humanities <>; John Akokpari <>
Subject: Lwazi Lushaba lecture 15 August

Dear Lwazi

I am writing as promised in follow up to our conversation earlier today.

I have received complaints from students and parents who believed the POL1005S lecture on 15 August was ‘disrupted’. They were confused about the purpose of the proceedings. They were uncertain about the educational value of the singing. They highlighted the presence of at least one student interdicted from coming onto the campus who was invited to speak (Masixolo Mlandu). They noted that a petition was circulated calling for the reinstatement of excluded students.

As I explained earlier, academic staff and students are free to engage in political activity. However, a lecture is an opportunity for learning and not for political mobilisation. I am especially concerned that the educational purposes of such a lecture should be clearly explained to students.

I record here your response that the students were provided with an “experience” that you considered beneficial for them. I also record here your claim that you invited #RMF to come to the lecture and that you were not aware of the identities of individual speakers. I am not persuaded that either of these responses discharges your responsibilities to the students.

Please feel free to consult the convenor or me in future if you need to talk through what might or might not be appropriate in a lecture.

Best wishes


Prof Anthony Butler

Head of the Department of Political Studies

University of Cape Town

+27 (0)21 650 3384

Public Investment Corporation RET

It looks increasingly likely that a win by President Jacob Zuma’s incumbent faction at the ANC’s conference in December will bring about “radical economic transformation” — there will be an unprecedented transfer of wealth from ordinary working people to an already bloated elite.

The key instrument in this radical programme of reverse empowerment will be the Public Investment Corporation (PIC), an entity that manages R1.8-trillion in government employees’ pensions and other guardian funds.

Earlier this week, Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba told union federation Cosatu’s central executive committee that he could not guarantee PIC-managed funds would not be used to “re-capitalise” state-owned enterprises (SOEs).

Such SOEs include the struggling national flag carrier, South African Airways (SAA), the SABC, and PetroSA, which have, together, accumulated losses of more than R25bn over the past decade.

In a carefully disseminated narrative, such SOE bailouts have been hailed as protecting jobs and promoting the national interest. In the absence of incentives to reform, however, SOE rescues simply buy time and space for further looting and mismanagement. The drunkards are soon back for another hand-out — and the Treasury’s pockets are now empty.

In the case of the SA National Roads Agency, the PIC has taken a step further, becoming the Gauteng pariah’s primary bond holder. This looks like an abuse of pensioners’ savings to rescue political elites from the fal-lout of the e-tolls debacle.

The worst is yet to come. The PIC has now established significant precedents for “political investing” in companies that offer no, or vanishingly little, prospect of returns. The PIC has thrown money into marginal platinum miner Lonmin. This has set a precedent for public-sector pension funds to be used to buy out ailing and “politically connected” resource houses, so dumping their toxic environmental and labour legacies on unwitting public-sector pensioners.

On yet another front, the PIC’s role in the purchase of the terminally sick Independent Media empire by Sekunjalo Investments has still not been explained or justified. This move has opened the door to a stream of further politically motivated abuses.

Public-sector pensioners are now being carefully groomed by their abusers to pay for a massive injection of capital into one of the world’s largest financial white elephants: Eskom.


Back in May 2015, the head of the ANC’s economic transformation committee, Enoch Godongwana, proposed that private pension funds might “address Eskom’s cash-flow situation … in return for equity”. The roughly R100bn initially required, however, could never be forthcoming from private institutional investors in SA, or from international power companies, in the absence of governance reforms that the ANC is too weak-kneed and compromised to contemplate.

For this reason, ANC leaders have spent two years lobbying for “worker investment” in paraststals to “protect jobs” and to “promote development and transformation”. But the only funds the workers have to invest are their pensions.

• Butler teaches public policy at the University of Cape Town

Parastatal budgeting (a vaguely prescient column from 2011)

Parastatals’ ‘budgets for dummies’ the way to go

 Business Day

18 Mar 2011

Anthony Butler

SA HAS become the site of two fascinating experiments in the methodology of budgetary accountability. Contrasting approaches to the transparency of government budgets — the Treasury model and the parastatal model — can now be compared for the first time.

The National Treasury was recently awarded top prize in the International Budget Partnership’s Open Budget Index, for overseeing the world’s most “transparent, participatory, and accountable” budget process. The partnership praised the Treasury for providing clear information to MPs, civil society groups and the media, so enabling citizens to participate in decision-making and hold the executive to account.

The alternative approach has been pioneered in the parastatal sector, where public borrowing now virtually equals that of the government itself. The parastatal model has four key features. First, it avoids overdependence on numerical data. When parastatals must use numbers, they use the simpler ones they believe ordinary citizens are best able to grasp. Confusing government subsidies, bail-outs and Treasury loan guarantees are omitted. Eschewing the complex data tables favoured by the Treasury, parastatal managers round financial information up to the nearest R5bn or R10bn.

For this reason, stateowned logistics group Transnet claimed in 2008 that its Johannesburg-toDurban fuel pipeline would cost R10bn. This rose to R15bn in April last year, before accelerating upwards this year to R25bn.

In a move towards still greater transparency, the Department of Transport uses R100bn — the reported cost of its proposed revamp of passenger rail services — as its basic unit of account. On Tuesday, Transnet announced its own R100bn project, this time for a major new port development. In the interests of citizen accountability, a detailed budgetary breakdown was provided: there would be “two phases” amounting to “R50bn in each phase”. Such easily understood R50bn or R100bn increments are also favoured by Eskom when communicating cost increases for its Medupi and Kusile power stations.

Second, parastatals have democratised their financial management processes by drawing large numbers of democratically elected citizens into their web of financial transactions. While private companies typically retain a single CE and finance director for several years, Transnet and Eskom have increased citizen participation by allocating such jobs to large numbers of middle managers on a rotating or “acting” basis. A further innovation in democratic transparency has been the publication in advance of the names of new parastatal CEs in The New Age newspaper, so citizens can learn their identities before Cabinet ministers and the members of parastatal boards have been notified of their own decisions.

Third, in the interests of transparency, it has been decided that all major infrastructure projects — highspeed rail links, airports, pipelines, sports stadiums and ports — will henceforth be located in Durban. This will allow citizens and MPs to inspect all of the projects in a single day.

The only exceptions to this rule are the nuclear power stations President Jacob Zuma has apparently agreed to purchase from France. In the light of recent events in Japan, such plants must be located, for technical reasons, in the Eastern Cape or in the northern suburbs of Cape Town.

The Open Budget Index is best viewed as a discredited instrument of western imperialism. Its methodological shortcomings have been exposed by its incorrect classification of China — a partner that Public Enterprises Minister Malusi Gigaba has identified as a good governance model — as “among the least transparent countries in the world”.

Despite its superficial attractions, the Treasury model — with its mass of detailed argumentation, small font sizes and dense statistical tables — is too labyrinthine for citizens, and Cabinet ministers, to follow. It is surely highly undemocratic that the finance minister has made available to the general public information that is too complex for even the president and his head of government communications to understand.

Butler teaches politics at Wits University.

Apartheid and democracy. Part 2

Is democracy good?

Wednesday 30 August 2017

The global political context has radically changed since the mid-1990s when I wrote Democracy and Apartheid. We no longer live in an age of liberal triumphalism. Political analysts do not expect “democracy” to solve all our problems. And we only have to look at the president of the US to see that democracy can have very negative consequences and not just positive ones.

Some of the critiques of democracy that are worth considering are:

#1 Liberal representative democracy is shallow or meaningless so its presence or absence is of little or no interest

Many critics have complained that this “liberal democracy” is shallow. What is needed, they argue, is a system that is more “deliberative” and/or “egalitarian”. “Deeper” or “deliberative” forms of decision making would involve citizens talking and understanding rather than just voting. A more “egalitarian” system might be one in which urban, educated, wealthy elites do not dominate political debate.

#2 Liberal democracy is counter-revolutionary

More direct critics (especially in the Marxist tradition) have complained that “bourgeois democracy” (the kind that we call “liberal representative democracy”) is a sham.

After all, the power of the “capitalist state” is deployed in the interests of the capitalist class in order to reproduce and sustain the capitalist system. The function of democracy (according to Marxists) is merely to make capitalism seem “legitimate” to those who are oppressed by it. In this way, democracy helps to delay the glorious revolution. “Bourgeois democracy” of the kind introduced in 1994 is therefore bad because it generates “false consciousness” among the population about the real condition of their lives.

“True democracy”, on a Marxist view, can only be realized outside the distortions of the capitalist system. The authoritarian state of East Germany (1949-90), to take one case, called itself the “German Democratic Republic”, despite being a police state with severe restrictions on opposition party and civil society activity, and the holding of “elections” in what was essentially a one-party state.

In the Marxist tradition, liberal representative democracy is a veneer applied to a system in which the capitalist class is dominant and the workers suffer from “false consciousness”. The Communist Party, by contrast, apparently enjoyed a “scientific understanding of society” that allowed it to discern the true interests of the masses. Apparently.

#3 “Liberal democracy” is merely a historically particular Western/colonial idea or practice

Other critics of “liberal democracy” include proponents of pre-colonial political traditions that purportedly offer the advantages of democracy without its malign western elements. See, for example, Andrew Nash’s presentation of something he calls “Mandela’s democracy” (POL5044S students – we will soon discuss this).

There is also potential for untried forms of democratic politics that cannot be realized through current (western) institutions and ideas. These are set out in a variety of utopian traditions, some of which focus on the potential of new technologies.
Can political science help us understand democracy in richer ways?

There have been two decades of innovation in political science since I wrote Democracy and Apartheid. (In my view, this is one further reason why the book is not useful for teaching.)

One trend is to treat many states as “hybrids” that combine different democratic and authoritarian practices, to differing degrees, rather than arguing that they are either democracies or they are not. A second trend has been to break down “democracy” into its various components or dimensions.

If I were writing a similar book today, I would use quite different concepts — such as “illiberal democracy” (Zakaria 1997), “hybrid regime”, or “Competitive Authoritarianism” (Levitsky and Way 2010) — to analyse apartheid SA.

These new concepts all emerged to help political scientists understand the numerous regimes that did not, and do not, fit the classification of states as “democratic” or “non-democratic” (or as “in transition” between the two). This dichotomy, and the idea that there was a general trend towards liberal democracy, dominated western political science in the 1990s. (This was also part of the argument of my book, but sadly I was not successful in developing any useful new concepts myself!)

I particularly value the analytic power of concepts like “hybrid regime” and “competitive authoritarianism”. Levitsky and Way’s “competitive authoritarian” regimes are different to “closed authoritarian regimes” because there are legal channels through which opposition parties can compete seriously for power – and conceivably even win. Examples today might be Russia, Malaysia, Angola, or Turkey.

Elections are held regularly, there is political opposition, and (circumscribed) civil liberties at least permit opposition parties to select candidates and organize campaigns. Not all political journalists are routinely jailed or killed. Not every ballot box is stuffed.

Democratic procedures therefore allow partial but genuine contestation for power. But these regimes are not “democracies”, according to Levitsky and Way, because competitive authoritarian regimes “fall short” on at least one, and usually more, of three “defining attributes of democracy”. These are (1) free elections, (2) broad protection of civil liberties, and (3) a “reasonably even playing field.”

Their writing is very clear although their arguments are complex. You can ask your lecturers about their approach or listen to Levitsky here

If I revisited the themes of Democracy and Apartheid today, twenty years on, I might explore the matter in something like these terms: was apartheid SA a “hybrid regime” (one that combined democratic and authoritarian practices) or perhaps a competitive authoritarian regime?

SA probably did not meet even the relatively minimal conditions for competitive authoritarianism after 1960, because the regime began to introduce wide ranging bans on opposition political parties — and to imprison or drive into exile a wide range of political opponents.

It is also interesting to “disaggregate democracy” in the way that has been attempted by the “Varieties of Democracy” project. This new approach makes it possible to trace how some of the contested component dimensions of democracy (they claim there are seven of these) have changed over the course of the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries in more than a hundred countries (including SA). There is a reference to the project site below if you want to see what is going on today in this part of political science.

Best wishes


Anthony Butler

30 August 2017




Butler, Anthony (1998) Democracy and Apartheid: Political theory, comparative politics and the modern South African State (New York, St Martin’s Press & Basingstoke, Macmillan).

Fukuyama, Francis (1989). :”The End of History”, The National Interest (16): 3–18.

Levitsky, Steven and Lucan Way (2010) Competitive Authoritarianism: Hybrid Regimes after the Cold War (Cambridge University Press).

Zakaria, Fareed (1991), ‘The rise of illiberal democracy’, Foreign Affairs (November-December)


The Varieties of Democracy project can be found at

Apartheid and democracy. Part 1

Apartheid SA as a democracy

Tuesday 29 August 2017


This is the promised blog post for the two students who asked me this morning whether or not “apartheid SA was a democracy”.


“Was apartheid SA a democracy?”

I would say obviously not, but it does depend on what you mean by “democracy”.

“Democracy” is a contested concept: people argue over what it means, and their competing definitions are not just based on reason and evidence but also on value judgments and ideologies.

“Democracy” literally means something like “rule by the people”. That idea (direct popular rule) is not realized in any complex society. If you want to look at it in that way, there is a sense in which “nobody has a democracy”.

In practice, so-called “democracies” have been (at best) “representative democracies” in which citizens vote periodically for a political elite that then governs on their behalf. This can work quite well. (There is a lot of evidence for this usually being a better option than the alternatives.)

But scholars – and ordinary people – have also expected more from “a democracy”.

Political scientists typically argue that beyond elections, a democracy should have some additional attributes, such as:

  • Elections that are regular and competitive, and that result in changes to the occupants of legislatures or executive offices (for example the presidency)
  • Elections that are “free and fair” (a variety of requirements flow from this)
  • Constitutional (and real) protections of certain key human rights (freedom of speech, press freedom, freedom of association) – this is what makes for a “liberal democracy”
  • A political system that permits “participation” (or perhaps “pluralism”) so that citizens can express their preferences between elections concerning particular issues and ideas that matter to them, regardless of how they vote


Was apartheid a democracy on these terms?


Why not?

  • After 1910 most (eventually all) black people were excluded from voting
  • Opposition parties were banned, quite widely after 1960
  • There was institutionalised racial segregation that denied fundamental human and political rights, including the rights needed for democracy to exist
  • Bantustans were created as “mini-states” in an attempt to deny Africans’ political rights inside SA by granting them fake rights in fake countries (this project was never legitimate under international law)
  • Freedom of association and speech was suppressed
  • A whole lot of other conditions for democracy were absent: there was detention without trial, state sponsored violence, and many other anti-democratic interventions.


Why do some scholars argue that SA was a “qualified” democracy?

After 1910, SA had competitive “white elections” that resulted in changes in government.

These elections had important political consequences. Most of them were very negative.

White voters sometimes obstructed moves towards reform that business and governmental elites might have favoured.

In addition, between 1910 and 1994, many white South Africans accepted the myth that SA was a democracy, and this was reinforced by academic analysis and media coverage of SA’s elections. This helped to maintain the legitimacy of the regime in whites’ eyes, and so served as a brake on political reform.

Up to the 1960s it was relatively easy to pretend that SA was democratic, because there were so few democracies globally, and many other so-called democracies also denied the vote to a majority of their inhabitants (specifically women, non-citizens, people who had been imprisoned, citizens deliberately disenfranchised by literacy and other requirements for registration, etc.).

And even after 1960, apartheid propagandists excused the white franchise in SA on the (false) grounds that Africans would soon enjoy political self-determination in the Bantustans.

I explored the argument that apartheid SA was a kind of democracy in a book Democracy and Apartheid that I wrote in 1996 and 1997, in the aftermath of the 1994 election (Macmillan 1998).

This book was a critique of the triumphalism about liberal democracy and capitalism that prevailed in political science at the time, expressed most famously in an article about “the end of history” by Fukuyama (1989). Fukuyama’s writing reflected a wider presumption that there was a global trend towards both market-based economies and liberal representative democracy.

South Africa “transition to democracy” was viewed in just this light by most of its international analysts.

It is important to situate the argument of my book in this context, and also to read the book in its entirety. The use of selective quotations can easily open the way to misunderstandings (as I discovered this morning from one student).

What the book does NOT argue is the following:

(A) “Democracy is good”

(B) “Apartheid was a democracy”

Therefore (A) plus (B)

(C) “Apartheid was good”


In the next blog post, I will explore whether or not democracy is (always) good.


Anthony Butler

29 August 2017

No need for democracy in China?

Political theorists know that disputes about the meaning of “democracy” usually cannot be settled by appeals to reason or evidence alone. Elections, at least, have been central to almost everyone’s idea of democracy since its unlikely emergence in ancient Athens.

Writing on the eve of SA’s own transition, the greatest of all living political scientists, Adam Przeworski, defined democracy as a regime in which “government offices are filled as a consequence of contested elections”. But most scholars insist that democracy must also be a “liberal” system in which fundamental rights and freedoms are constitutionally protected.

Can democratic decisions be delegated to others? In large and complex commercial societies, electoral participation has mostly been limited to periodic votes for representatives who then deliberate on citizens’ behalf.

While western political scientists struggle to define democracy and to understand its implications, the Chinese Communist Party is bypassing the concept altogether.

Chinese people are increasingly unwilling to tolerate the crony capitalism and corruption of the “party-state”. Reformers have talked guardedly about the potential merits of constitutionalism — or even of intraparty elections involving carefully vetted candidates.

But conservatives insist that democracy is costly, destabilising and inefficient. Far better, they argue, to use new technologies to rebuild the party’s legitimacy. Behind China’s “Great Internet Firewall”, an army of censors has long overseen indigenous Weibo social media, taking down the posts of frustrated citizens, identifying antiparty agitators and facilitating the arrest of dissenters. Now the party has reportedly begun to use social media data more constructively to tackle the sources of popular discontent.

Corrupt local officials have been identified and (when politically convenient) removed or punished.

Ordinary people’s revealed anxieties about pollution and public service failures have been translated into remedial actions. Official websites have been set up to filter and channel citizens’ complaints, while the posts of “rumour-mongers” continue to be deleted.

Party officials can now knock on the doors of outraged residents whose houses lie in the path of a rapacious property developer. Informed by Weibo analytics about the intensity of the citizens’ anger, the party can make available appropriate and differentiated compensation to each household, and so avert the formation of a local protest movement. Through this lens, issue-based protest politics simply shows that party officials have not yet identified and tackled the root causes of discontent.

Social media giant Facebook, banned in China, has an almost magical ability to target relevant advertising at consumers. In representative democracies, candidates with deep pockets — and their big-business sponsors — have recently started using the same social media analytics to target political advertising at voters. This growing technological nightmare for the proponents of liberal democracy in the West may be a dream come true for Chinese communists.

Advances in the machine-based processing of social media communications could in future allow the party to know what citizens want before they do themselves. If it can identify the factors that generate discontent, and ameliorate the causes of antiparty sentiment before they turn into anger and protest, the governing elite will be able to dispense altogether with the bothersome and inefficient practice of democracy.

• Butler teaches public policy at the University of Cape Town.

Party funding proposals

Parliament’s ad hoc committee on the funding of political parties has recently received numerous detailed submissions in support of its review of party funding.

Parties need resources to organise and educate citizens, formulate policy alternatives and campaign. But private donations create opportunities for corruption and influence buying. Donors can receive licences and concessions, selective policy advantages, or public sector contracts. Meanwhile, rich parties can dominate election campaigns. The international trend has been towards greater or exclusive public funding of parties, transparency of donations, and heavier regulation of expenditures.

After a decade of foot-dragging, the ANC has finally initiated a reform process. Its own submission last week calls for heavier regulation, donation caps, transparency and spending to promote participation and democracy.

Parties that agree to regulation and disclosure will be compensated by increased public support.

It will also consider bans on donations by party-or state-owned companies and multinationals.

The ANC document has many merits. It recognises the advantages of greater openness and acknowledges the needs of smaller parties and new entrants. It accepts opposition parties’ fear that disclosure will drive donors away or underground.

Nevertheless, opposition MPs will need to keep their wits about them if they are not to be disadvantaged by new legislation.

First, international experience points to the dangers of evasion and selective regulation. When donations are banned or capped, they turn into “loans”, are hidden in commercial deals or opaque legal trusts, or are packaged to fall under thresholds.

Disclosure also encourages donors to divert funds to political foundations or other party-aligned institutions in civil society: interest groups, NGOs and partisan newspapers.

Such practices encourage intrusive regulation of targeted political parties and civil society organisations. Factions within governing parties, moreover, inevitably try to penetrate regulatory institutions — even those deemed independent, such as the electoral commission.

Regulation must be nondiscretionary to reduce partisan and factional bias.

Second, it is desirable to ban donations from state and foreign corporations, but such controls can be circumvented fairly easily. Transfers from parastatals to ANC vehicles — for example from Eskom to Chancellor House — demonstrates just how simple this can be if a party is sufficiently brazen.

Third, state elections are often dwarfed by intraparty elections. Money should not be allowed simply to migrate from regulated contests to unregulated ones within parties. But how can this be done without destroying party independence?

Fourth, most parties in SA oblige their elected representatives to donate a share of their salaries to the party — ANC treasurer-general Zweli Mkhize has tried to extend this “tithing” to purportedly nonpartisan directors-general. This practice is widespread in provincial governments and provides a major advantage to governing parties.

Finally, public funding increases are no panacea. There is already more than R1bn of public funding in SA annually. The Represented Political Parties’ Fund distributes more than R135m, and Parliament appropriates R530m to support ill-defined caucus and constituency activities.

Some ANC-governed provinces dole out R630m for party and constituency activities. Order should be brought to this chaos before increases in public funding are even considered.

Opposition parties and the ANC have an interest in bringing monetised politics under better control. There is a need for a regulatory and legal framework that is fair, robust, and resistant to manipulation.

• Butler teaches public policy at the University of Cape Town.

Mbete and the no confidence vote

Baleka Mbete, Speaker of the National Assembly, ANC chairwoman and self-styled presidential hopeful, has enjoyed remarkably generous media coverage in recent days. Yet a week ago, she epitomised everything that had gone wrong with the ANC.