South Africa: the world’s leading flawed democracy

The Economist deems South Africa to be the world’s 29th most democratic country, and puts us at the top of its list of “flawed” democracies, in its latest “Democracy Index”.

I think the rankings themselves may be a touch flawed. No, I’m not rushing to defend South Africa. If anything, I think the rankings over-estimate our democratic credentials.

A couple of points:

  • Respect for human life: Ours is not a country that sets great store by the value of human life. This manifests itself in crime, in the high numbers of people who support the restoration of the death penalty, and in the government’s apparently limitless contempt for the rights and lives of those who are HIV positive.
  • One of the five areas in which different countries are ranked is “functioning of government”. We score 7.86 – the same as Japan. I would not argue that our bureaucracy is abysmal overall (the quality varies wildly from department to department, and area to area) – but I do find it extremely hard to believe that it’s anywhere near as effective as that of the Japanese.

The index ranks Sweden most democratic, and North Korea least democratic. The US and UK make it to positions 17 and 23. Both are considered to have problematic and declining rankings in respect of civil liberties. Other notable flawed democracies include South Korea, Italy, Israel and Brazil.

About David

I am an environmental writer, journalist and speaker living in Cape Town, South Africa.
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