Skip to main content
Open Access Publications from the University of California

UC Berkeley

UC Berkeley Electronic Theses and Dissertations bannerUC Berkeley

Present at the Creation: Founding Party Dominance in South Africa and Beyond


This dissertation develops an economic theory of founding party dominance and validates its main implications via an in-depth analysis of South Africa under the ANC. At its core, the theory explains how a founding party like the ANC maintains the credibility of its economic promises in the longer term while generally failing to deliver on them in the shorter term. Ultimately, the credibility of these promises is determined by citizens' beliefs about the party, which they update by observing economic outcomes. In order to maintain favorable beliefs among the citizenry, the party strategically allocates state resources and economic propaganda across its broad coalition of voters.

Just as the theory predicts, ANC governments have shown a clear resource bias toward their higher-information supporters, who are better able to observe the state of the economy and the extent of government corruption. The country's post-apartheid economic policies starkly favor the more urban, better-informed elements in the ANC's coalition. Moreover, we demonstrate that the stronger is the economy, the more state resources are allocated to higher-information provinces as compared to their lower-information counterparts. In the same vein, we show that instances of official corruption--particularly the maladministration of social services--are far more prevalent in lower-information provinces, exacerbating the relative deprivation of citizens living in these environments. The theory also implies that founding party rulers like the ANC will allocate a greater share of state resources to its less partisan supporters, in line with the "swing voter" school of distributional politics. While the overall evidence is mixed, we do find that the ANC directs more resources to provinces in which its support among Africans has lagged the most (or increased the least) between elections.

Even more interestingly, our theory's unconventional prediction about the ANC's use of economic propaganda--namely, that the incumbent will strategically downplay the state of the economy in order justify the low provision of state resources--is borne out by the data. Particularly in period surrounding elections, the South African government systematically underestimates the country's rate of economic growth, only to revise those estimates upward at a later date. We also show that state-owned television outlets downplay the state of the South African economy in their coverage--and that they do so more than privately owned newspapers. Indeed, the stronger the economy, the more negative/less positive is the economic reporting by the state-owned South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC). What's more, SABC broadcasts in African languages are even more negative in tone than equivalent reporting in European languages, while a newspaper outlet widely regarded as pro-government is less likely to report positively during "good times" than more neutral publications. All of this evidence indicates that the ANC is targeting economic propaganda at African citizens with middling access to information, the precise group predicted by our theory.

Given these facts and conditions, we should not be surprised that the ANC--despite its widespread failure to deliver on its material promises--continues to so thoroughly dominate South African politics nearly 20 years after the advent of majority rule. Nor should we be surprised that provinces where the ANC enjoys the most electoral support are also those where the average (African) citizen is most likely to believe that her personal economic conditions reflect those of the broader national economy, as revealed in Chapter 5. Finally, we should be encouraged by an explanation of ANC dominance that goes beyond the traditional emphasis on race, not only because race is a `red herring' explanation that obscures a raft of political and economic dynamics, but also because it allows us to place South Africa's founding party dominance in a larger scholastic and historical context. As such, we speculate on how this study helps explain other examples political dominance, as well as what those examples suggest for the future of South African politics.

Main Content
For improved accessibility of PDF content, download the file to your device.
Current View