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Democracy, traditional leadership and the International Economy in South Africa


  • Thomas Koelble


The paper argues that in order to adequately analyse the development of postcolonial democracy - in this case South Africa - a theoretical model has to take into account the context within which that democratic experiment finds itself in. This context is shaped by the international political economy, the circulation of a democracy discourse at both the level of global and local political culture, and the history of state-formation. The paper explores what might explain the resurgence of purportedly 'traditional' modes of governance, symbolised by the 'chief' across several rural landscapes. It argues that the inability of the state to affect fundamental changes in the social, political and economic conditions of the rural hinterlands has created a situation in which local power holders are able to redefine traditional cultural values. In the process of doing so, these local power holders both shape and are shaped by a global discourse of what democracy might be and mean. The paper highlights the debate concerning notions of 'African' forms of democracy, embodied most starkly by some of Nelson Mandela’s writings, which hold that village level deliberation and chieftaincy based upon community consensus may be more appropriate models of democracy than western versions based upon the notions of electoral contestation. This argument stands in sharp contrast to conventional approaches to democracy which would suggest that traditional leadership is an anachronism of lesser developed countries and stands in contrast to western democratic norms and values.

Suggested Citation

  • Thomas Koelble, 2005. "Democracy, traditional leadership and the International Economy in South Africa," SALDRU/CSSR Working Papers 114, Southern Africa Labour and Development Research Unit, University of Cape Town.
  • Handle: RePEc:ldr:cssrwp:114

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Johannes Fedderke & John Luiz, 2005. "Does Human Generate Social and Institutional Capital? Exploring Evidence from Time Series Data in a Middle Income Country," Working Papers 29, Economic Research Southern Africa.
    2. Johannes Fedderke & Chandana Kularatne & Martine Mariotti, 2007. "Mark-up Pricing in South African Industry," Journal of African Economies, Centre for the Study of African Economies (CSAE), vol. 16(1), pages 28-69, January.
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