Many paths to democracy : a critique of Casper and Taylor's theoretical model through the South African lens

Master Thesis


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University of Cape Town

In 1994, South Africa held national elections that, for the first time, were open to voters of all races. Prior to this event, however, most political analysts would have considered the possibility of a peaceful transition unlikely. This is because most contemporary transition theory advocates strategies of compromise and elite pact-making. In apartheid South Africa, the prospects for such a resolution appeared poor. But what if compromise is not always the best path to democracy? Gretchen Casper and Michelle M. Taylor (1996) offer one theoretical approach that concludes just that. By focussing its attention on the process of transition and the interaction between the various actors involved, Casper and Taylor find that highly charged negotiations more often result in effective, consolidated democracy. Consequently, this paper examines, applies, and critiques their approach through the South African case. What we find is that their model appears theoretically sound, and can be successfully applied to the South African case, but fails to capture the complexities of the post-transition experience in South Africa. But, in many ways, the South African case is an unusual one, and is not easily explained by any contemporary theory. As such, this failure is not completely due to weaknesses in the model. Consequently, we conclude that there are clearly benefits to utilizing their approach, and the conclusions drawn from their model may yet yield some important theory, but the model cannot be considered complete, despite their unique focus.

Bibliography: leaves 55-56.