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The ANC's hybrid regime, civil rights and risks to business

By Heinrich Matthee - posted Tuesday, 2 December 2014

During the more than five years of President Jacob Zuma's rule, South Africa has moved from a flawed democracy to a hybrid regime.

In this regime, the locus of politics is not in the legislature or elections, but has moved to a field of power where democratic and non-accountable actors and processes interact. This political order could remain in place for the next decade.

One non-accountable factor is the ANC as a ruling party after twenty years in a one-party-dominant state. It has a non-pluralist political culture. Through its policy of cadre deployment, it has captured most state institutions and watered down the separation of powers. State institutions are now largely politically partisan, reinforcing a hybrid regime.


The ANC has therefore become as important a gatekeeper to power as elections, if not more important. It has expanded its hold on key constituencies and the market, also through selective patronage and crony capitalism. Both the electoral and the economic playing fields have been made uneven.

In elections there has been a marked decline in the registration and participation of eligible voters since 1994. In 2014, the ANC only attracted an estimated 35% of eligible voters' support, compared to 54% in 1994. High levels of emigration reflect the lack of responsiveness to citizens by the existing institutions. A high number of protests constitute forms of political competition aimed at gaining access to power and wealth outside elections.

Another driver of the hybrid regime is an unaccountable presidentialism that has exceeded the constitutional bounds of the office. President Zuma has not been held accountable by his party or Parliament. The media and institutions like the Public Protector have been able to identify and admonish examples hereof. However, in the current regime, the democratic checks and balances have not been able to restrain the executive in this regard.

The securitization of politics has become another trend in the hybrid regime. A longstanding non-pluralist political culture in the ANC, combined with increased factional struggles over positions, access to resources and opportunities within the ANC and its allies, will reinforce this. Suspicion and fear will set the tone in the inner circles of power. To the thousands of tourists and businesspeople visiting South Africa, this will not necessarily be visible.

Politics in the hybrid regime has acquired a non-democratic tenor. Even Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu has referred to ANC intimidation. Political protests and assassinations have become an institutionalised part of local political alternation.

Opaque decision-making, linked to patron-client relations now permeate the executive and bureaucracy. The judiciary and media remain spaces of freedom, but are under pressure.


The interaction of the above-mentioned forces has resulted in democratic decline and transformed the political rules of the game, institutions and incentive systems in South Africa.

Unfortunately, three drivers will reinforce the dynamics of this hybrid regime and democratic decline in the next five years, namely intensified factional competition in the run-up to elections and the presidential succession; the further politicization of the security forces and securitization of politics to prop up presidential rule; as well as the weak economy and more limited state resources.

Economic policy uncertainty, swings and delays due to the infighting between different factions seem likely. Policy uncertainty will be experienced most by companies in sectors exposed to the government's political priorities, regulatory and licensing power.

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About the Author

Dr Heinrich Matthee is a strategy advisor and political risk analyst for companies and NGOs in the Middle East and Africa.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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