Agents of the Regime? Traditional Leaders and Electoral Behavior in South Africa

43 Pages Posted: 26 Sep 2014 Last revised: 12 Dec 2014

Date Written: December 10, 2014


Traditional leaders are often given sub-national territorial authority in developing democracies. Though ubiquitous, the political consequences of their power has received little rigorous attention. We argue that such traditional leaders, whose power depends on the state, may be incentivized to strategically support political parties who can guarantee their survival and provide them with rents. We study this quid pro quo in the Apartheid-era Bantustans of South Africa. We show that an alignment between the state party and the chiefs maps to increased political support for the party. Further, we provide quantitative evidence consistent with chiefs acting as clientelistic brokers. Our results suggest that chiefs boost African National Congress (ANC) vote-share by 8.2 percentage points in the Bantustans. This translates into roughly 4.5% of the ANC's total vote-share, and a distortion in the national vote of 2.5 percentage points. This distortion is pivotal in determining whether the ANC is able to alter South Africa's constitution.

Keywords: South Africa, regime, Electoral Clientelism

Suggested Citation

de Kadt, Daniel and Larreguy, Horacio, Agents of the Regime? Traditional Leaders and Electoral Behavior in South Africa (December 10, 2014). MIT Political Science Department Research Paper No. 2014-24, Available at SSRN: or

Daniel De Kadt (Contact Author)

University of California, Merced ( email )

P.O. Box 2039
Merced, CA 95344
United States

Horacio Larreguy

ITAM ( email )

Av. Camino a Sta. Teresa 930
Col. Héroes de Padierna
Mexico City, D.F. 01000, Federal District 01080
10700 (Fax)

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