‘Paralysed by Flaws of First-Instance’? Reflections on the Political Economy of South Africa, Twenty Years into Democracy

  • Kwandiwe Kondlo


This article examines what it refers to as the dialectic of the ‘old’ and the ‘new’ in the political economy of South Africa, post-1994. The ‘old’ and the ‘new’ in South Africa’s political economy infer the dominance of continuities over discontinuities and the subordination of change to the patterns of the ‘old’. In tracing the dialectic of the old and the new, the article revisits aspects of South Africa’s political economy before 1994. It also reviews critically the performance of the liberation movement during transitional negotiations, especially during the negotiations about the new economic order, referred to in the literature as ‘economic CODESA’1 (meaning the Convention for a Democratic South Africa). The article argues that the liberation movement failed to take the lead during the dialogue about the future of South Africa’s economy, hence post-1994, black South Africans are enduring the consequences, whereas capital, both local and international, was determined to get every benefit for every investment made to remove apartheid and create a liberal democracy. Economic negotiations took place largely outside the public spectacle. The article argues that at the economy negotiations table, the liberation movement was outsmarted if not completely manipulated – part of the manipulation was to make the leaders of the liberation movement believe that there would be an easy positive correlation between the liberalisation of finance capital, growing rates of foreign direct investment, and the trickle-down effects of benefits of economic growth in post 1994 South Africa. This has not been the case. It is now becoming very clear that in its readiness to govern, the liberation movement under-estimated  the challenges of financial capital and its muscle in the global political economy. The well established architecture of the global financial system keeps the marginalised in the margins whilst strengthening the traditional centre. Post apartheid South Africa participates freely in the economic game but in essence, the rules have remained the same and there is very little significant influence the country can make to tilt the scales in its favour as an emerging economy and a young democracy. Hence the economy continues not to be as inclusive as the political’ sphere. In fact, the economic sphere is the magnifying glass of enduring humiliation of the black majority and exposes the unbreakable thread of power and privilege of the white elite.


Journal Identifiers

eISSN: 1995-641X
print ISSN: 0256-2804