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Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe

On-line version ISSN 2224-7912
Print version ISSN 0041-4751


RIEDER, Ilse  and  VAN DER ELST, Herman. Substantive policy implementation and the erosion of voter trust as factors in the consolidation of the South African democracy. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2020, vol.60, n.3, pp.596-618. ISSN 2224-7912.

Internationally, voter trust in political systems is recognised as key to successful democratic governance and the effective co-ordination of collective interaction between government and civil society. For the purposes of this article, it is inferred that voter trust is largely based on the ability of the government to bring about successful transformation in a developmental society - within a period of time. Voter trust in the ANC originally showed increased levels in the first decade of democracy. However, after the 2004 election levels of voter trust started eroding in the ANC; in fact, since the 1999 elections voter trust has been consistently eroding in the South African democracy as a whole. In order to identify the nature and causes of this phenomenon, this article will focus primarily on the following narrative: the failure of transitional governments to implement effectively election promises in the substantive dimensions of the democracy and the effect of said failure on voter behaviour and trust. Based on these guidelines, the purpose of the article is therefore to identify the causes of the erosion of voter trust in the macro (ethical and moral), meso (economic) and application (social) dimensions of the democracy. The primary objective will be to establish the influence such erosion of voter trust has had on the ruling party, election outcomes and the democratic consolidation process generally in South Africa. To illustrate the trajectory of the erosion in voter trust, voting patterns from the post-1994 period to 2016 are discussed. The results ofvarious analytical studies regarding voting patterns were applied to substantiate the argument that the trajectory of voter trust in the ANC government at first reflected an increase, as opposed to the erosion thereof in the second decade of democracy and beyond. The analysis of voting patterns, especially under the so-called "born free" generation, revealed voter apathy, low political efficacy and the erosion of trust in the governing party, leaders, institutions and democratic processes. Various studies revealed that participation of the VAP (Voting Age Population) in elections from 1994 to 2004 was already on a downward trajectory since 1999 through to 2016. Urbanisation and the change in socio-economic needs of voters, as well as the ideological shift in their viewpoint from democratic ideals (freedom and equality) to bread and butter issues, coupled with the government's inability to eliminate poverty, rendered the original election message of liberation and the ANC as the only legitimate government, increasingly irrelevant in the last decade of democracy. Analysis of the implementation of election promises, as stipulated in the ANC manifestos, show that there were successes at procedural level in terms of the establishment of democratic institutions, but that the ANC was mostly ineffective in its management thereof (substantive implementation), and therefore failed in the establishment of socio-economic and interventional programmes and policies. The appearance of corruption, clientelism, maladministration and state capture is manifest not only in the ANC government structures, but also in democratic institutions, State Owned Enterprises (SOE's) and Nongovernmental Organisations (NGO's). Voter trust in a democracy follows a dynamic process where political (moral) trust is initially high, shifting to institutional trust (economic) in the transitional phase along with interpersonal trust (social), as democratic consolidation and acceptance of democratic principles (as the only legitimate form of government) are being established. Delay in democratic consolidation places the focus on interpersonal trust as voters become more concerned over issues such as basic service delivery, poverty alleviation, housing and jobs (personal wellbeing). In this article it is assumed that a downward turn in voter trust negatively affects democratic consolidation. All three dimensions of voter trust are required in equal balance for the democracy to consolidate successfully within a set period of time. In conclusion, recommendations are made, including a vision towards future trends in voter trust in the aftermath of the 2019 national/provincial elections.

Keywords : democracy; voter trust; erosion; transformation; substantive policy implementation; role of the state; voting patterns; ineffectiveness; corruption; legitimacy; developmental outcomes.

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