By Richard Morin
A paper by Richard Morin, fall 1999 fellow, considers South Africans’ sense of optimism and uncertainty regarding future democratic progress. Do they expect the transformation brought about by Nelson Mandela and Bishop Desmond Tutu to continue, or to pass into blood and chaos? Do the factors that encourage optimism among blacks provoke uncertainty among whites? What lessons, if any, should politicians and policymakers glean from survey data as they attempt to consolidate and deepen democracy in South Africa? The sometimes-surprising answers to these questions are the focus of this paper. As Morin’s analysis will suggest, pessimism about the future of democracy frequently comes from unexpected sources. The most pessimistic South Africans are black, not white. These data also suggest that crime may be harming democracy in South Africa, or at the least, eroding public confidence in democratic institutions and systems. At the same time, broad mistrust of police, the army and the courts complicates efforts to combat crime. The enormous gap between rich and poor South Africans and the legacy of apartheid also sharply reduce belief that democracy will endure. Yet, in spite of these pessimistic signs is equally compelling evidence that South Africans stand poised to once again defy long odds and pessimistic predictions about their future.