Collections > UNC Chapel Hill Undergraduate Honors Theses Collection > A Disappointing Democracy? Political Representation, Inequality, and Policy in South Africa Since 1994

How important is it for a nation’s legislature to be proportional to the population in physical characteristics, like race and sex? Would such a legislature produce policies that better represent the constituency’s interests? With a descriptive representation framework, this study examines how a newly enfranchised population changes the sex and racial composition of the South African Parliament, and how this fundamental legislative change impacts the poverty/inequality rates, policy rhetoric, and public opinion since 1994. South Africa is an ideal case study because of the nation’s abrupt, rapid revolution that over-turned apartheid rule, thereby placing the start of universal suffrage at a distinct period of time compared to other countries. Past research has focused on inequality and economic policies in South Africa; however, scholars have yet to discuss these two important topics within the context of the descriptive representation of the South African Parliament. Using data from the census, national surveys, and personal compilation, this research explores how proportional the race and sex of Parliament members have been compared to the overall population and impoverished groups. Also, to determine the degree of substantive representation, the content and goals of significant macroeconomic policies since 1994 were evaluated and compared to the corresponding public opinion in newspaper articles. The findings show that the government has become more descriptively representative of the South African population since 1994. Poverty rates have recently decreased, but national inequality remains the same since before democracy. Because the public opinion of the poverty and inequality policies was generally positive, with a few criticisms, this study demonstrates that descriptive representation led to substantive representation. These results add to the existing literature on descriptive representation, substantive representation, and democracy.