Library Header Image
LSE Research Online LSE Library Services

Fragile stability: state and society in democratic South Africa

Beall, Jo, Gelb, Stephen and Hassim, Shireen (2005) Fragile stability: state and society in democratic South Africa. Journal of Southern African Studies, 31 (4). pp. 681-700. ISSN 0305-7070

Download (307kB) | Preview
Identification Number: 10.1080/03057070500370415


This article adopts a 'state-in-society' approach in order to take account of the impact of the transition to democracy in South Africa on social groups and their engagement with the state. The article suggests that democratic consolidation involves not only building a new state but also new interfaces between state and society. We use the term 'fragile stability' to characterise the contradictory nature of South Africa's transition a decade after apartheid: society is stable in that the non-racial regime is fully accepted as legitimate, but the immense social problems which were apartheid's legacy remain a threat to social order. The article shows how state authority and capacity have been regenerated from a position of severe weakness at the time of the transition, to a situation today where it has substantial capabilities in exercising basic functions such as policing, border control and taxation. However, we argue that in many other social arenas, both stability and fragility have increased. Drawing on other articles in this special issue, we discuss the different patterns in which the contradictory combination of stability and fragility has evolved. The macro-economic situation has been both stabilising and destabilising, but different policies have been responsible for each. We suggest that single-party dominance of the political arena, the continued salience of race relations, black economic empowerment, militarism and corruption are arenas where the same social or political processes have both promoted stability and added to the potential for destabilisation. In gender relations, HIV/AIDS and land reform, stabilisation has been limited, as linkages between state and society have not been successfully established. We conclude that despite its tenuous nature, fragile stability nonetheless represents an 'equilibrium' that is likely to persist in the short- to medium-term, because the social forces and political organisations needed to move the society to a different position - either crisis or thoroughgoing consolidation - have not yet emerged.

Item Type: Article
Official URL:
Additional Information: © 2005 Taylor and Francis Group
Divisions: International Development
Subjects: D History General and Old World > DT Africa
Date Deposited: 26 Aug 2008 13:52
Last Modified: 20 Jul 2021 00:12

Actions (login required)

View Item View Item


Downloads per month over past year

View more statistics