Just over 25 years into a constitutional democracy and South Africa has made admirable progress in dismantling the worst apartheid legal and institutional infrastructures. Nonetheless, the socio-economic conditions of many South African people remain desperate. These socio-economic conditions are a cause for great social distress, at times leading to service delivery protests. For this reason, life in South Africa has become somewhat fragile, leaving many citizens vulnerable.

The Open Society for South Africa (OSF-SA) has partnered with Democracy Works Foundation (DWF) in awarding five Democracy Fellowships to both young and more experienced thought leaders on democracy and its challenges in South Africa. The Democracy Fellowship supports individuals pursuing innovative and unconventional approaches to fundamental open society challenges.

Fellows are asked to respond to the following problem statement in the form of papers and articles:

Advancing constitutionalism in a stressed democracy

The constitutional democratic South Africa is a society that is still taking shape and the nature of the political system is still very much contested, thus creating great opportunities for positive change as well as real risks.

South Africa has made progress in aligning the legal and institutional infrastructure with the requirements of our much-deliberated constitutional dispensation. South Africa has developed and adopted a vast array of laws and policies aimed at transforming society and empowering previously disadvantaged and marginalised groups. However, South Africa continues to face severe challenges to the equitable delivery of essential services, generating regular service delivery protests by marginalised sectors of the population frustrated by the slow pace of development and lack of services for the poor in the country. The country has failed to dismantle the economic legacy of the colonial and apartheid rule. Inequality is predominantly racialised and takes a gendered dimension, millions of South Africans do not have access to land, and unemployment (especially amongst the youth) is at very high levels.

The slow pace of social change and growing inequality has led both government and opposition parties to blame the constitution, and there are increasing demands for constitutional change. This attack on post-apartheid constitutionalism has seen some critics using both the constitution’s origins (as a political compromise) and the failures of governance over the last 25 years to reject the existing constitution and to demand a new order. Arguing that the constitution is fundamentally flawed, these critics question the legitimacy of the constitution implying that nullifying the present constitutional order will offer a means to address the legacies of apartheid that continue to dominate the daily lives of most South Africans.

In 2019, South Africans went to the polls to vote in the country’s sixth democratic national elections. These elections provided an opportunity to reflect on the state of constitutionalism in South Africa, and to consider how we mitigate threats to constitutionalism in South Africa, whilst ensuring the promises of transformation, economic inclusion, participation, and redistribution are realised without compromising fundamental rights, transparency, and the rule of law.

Through the lens of the 2019 elections, how do we approach constitutionalism and democracy in South Africa through the following themes:

  • Land reform;
  • Electoral reform;
  • Politics of Political parties; and
  • The Economics of Democracy.

Tasneem Essop: Social Protests and Youth in South Africa’s Democracy

The project aims to contribute to understanding two interrelated yet distinct questions around South Africa’s democracy. The first questions focus on the politics of protests and popular politics in relation to electoral participation, with the second question focusing on how do protests, and in particular, the sessions of community protests that happen across the country, link to ideas around democratic participation, both within and beyond the questions of elections?

Tasneem Essop is a scholar and activist in Johannesburg. Tasneem is based at the Society, Work and Politics Institute (SWOP Institute) as an Assistant Researcher. She is currently a Ph.D. Candidate in Political Studies and a THInK Fellow (Transforming the Humanities through Interdisciplinary Studies) at the University of the Witwatersrand. She holds a Masters Degree in Political Studies, her research focused on the South African political party, the Economic Freedom Fighters, branch politics, and populism. Tasneem’s current research includes work on community protests and popular politics. Tasneem has been called in as a political commentator and analyst on topics relating to contemporary South African politics. She has been involved in a number of movements as an activist.

Sithembile Mbete: Your Vote Matters

The project argues that informing voters about the electoral system can combat voter apathy and increase turnout in the 2019 elections. A decade of corruption scandals, governance failures, and lack of political accountability has increased voter dissatisfaction with South Africa’s democracy. Voter turnout has decreased steadily since 1999. Recent studies reveal that young people are particularly disillusioned by electoral politics. Only 35% of eligible voters between the ages of 18 and 29 are registered to vote. The project challenges current thinking that withdrawing from the electoral processes can bring about change.

Sithembile Mbete is a lecturer in the Department of Political Sciences at the University of Pretoria where she lectures international relations and South African politics. She has a DPhil in International Relations. Her doctoral research was an analysis of South Africa’s two elected terms in the United Nations Security Council. She has published on the Economic Freedom Fighters’ (EFF) and South African elections in accredited journals. Her research has been funded by the National Institute for Humanities and Social Science (NIHSS), National Research Foundation (NRF), Social Science Research Council and the Mellon Foundation. In 2014 she was a visiting scholar at the Department of Political Science and Balsillie School of International Affairs at the University of Waterloo. She comments frequently in the media on a range of issues in South African politics.

Lukhona Mnguni: 1000 Rural Voices

This project argues that rural communities remain among the most forgotten in the democratic dispensation. Geographically they are significantly displaced from the core of decision-making, policy formulation, and discourse on the developmental agenda of our country. The research project is based on fieldwork from ten villages across KwaZulu-Natal. It challenges thinking around rural communities through two narratives:

Rural people have voices. Society needs to give them a voice in order to hear what their ideas are on the course of development that should be pursued as rural development. This is important because rural spaces are heterogeneous.

KwaZulu-Natal has been an important electoral democracy success in South Africa. This needs to be explored, in terms of how it has been achieved. More often than not the province is seen as a hive of violence and intolerant politics, yet there is a hidden story about its political culture and change.

Lukhona Mnguni holds a Bachelor of Community and Development Studies (cum laude) and an Honours Degree in Conflict Transformation and Peace Studies (cum laude), both from the University of KwaZulu-Natal. Mnguni holds an MSc in Africa and International Development from the University of Edinburgh in November 2015 after having received the Commonwealth Scholarship to pursue his studies. He currently serves as a Ph.D. intern Researcher in the Maurice Webb Race Relations Unit at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. He believes in the promotion of dialogue as a tool to foster inclusive and sustainable solutions to development. For this dedicated work in and outside his workplace, Mnguni was awarded the Deputy Vice-Chancellor’s Community Engagement Award during the College of Humanities Staff Excellence Awards 2016. He continues to give public seminars and talks on key topics that focus on the development of South Africa within the context of the African continent and the world at large.


Nompumelelo Runji: Active citizenship and participation in South Africa

The project explores the promotion of political agency and the development of the ‘active democratic spirit’- active citizenship- through attempting to answer key questions around the following:

Citizen’s knowledge of the participatory framework, barriers to participation, restoring faith in democratic participation, democratic and political education, the rights and duties of citizens to participate and the value of community engagement, and how political party manifestos engage with public and community concerns.

In addition, it explores how political and legal institutions-more specifically, public officials and elected representatives that are more loyal to party than the electorate- can be encouraged to engage more positively with, and be more responsive to, active citizens.

Nompumelelo Runji is a researcher; writer; professional moderator and facilitator; and panelist. She is a thought leader with years of experience as a communicator and has authored and contributed to books, papers, and articles on democracy and development. She has a solid track record as a political analyst and is featured regularly in print and online media, as well as on radio and television. She writes a weekly column for the Sowetan, South Africa’s second-biggest daily newspaper, providing analysis on socio-political developments that have implications for democratic consolidation and deepening and governance in the country, which has been running since 2014.  Nompumelelo is also an academic and has been a part-time lecturer at the University of Pretoria (UP) Department of Political Science. She was the recipient of a Mellon Foundation Scholarship in 2016 to pursue her Ph.D. research focusing on analysing the effects of social media on political agency and implications for democratic consolidation and deepening due to be completed in 2019. She holds a BSocSci in Industrial Sociology and Labour Studies, a BA (Honours) in Political Science as well as an MPhil in Multidisciplinary Human Rights from the Centre for Human Rights at the University of Pretoria where she wrote a mini-dissertation on the constitutional reform process in Kenya with a particular focus on the appointment of judges and the implications of judicial reform for democratic consolidation.


Naledi Modise: Perspectives from the periphery

Protests are a common feature of the South African political landscape and have been used to communicate the dissatisfaction of the people. In recent years there has been an increasing number of protests demanding that the South African government improves the socio-economic conditions of the people. This project aims to bring into focus the voices of the people in the periphery whose stories remain unheard due to their location, this project will widen the gaze on how social justice should look, by detailing their lived experience of democracy, and most importantly their future expectations.

Naledi Modise is a junior academic and researcher based in Mafikeng. Naledi is a Junior Lecturer of Political Studies at NWU-Mafikeng. She is a Harry Frank Guggenheim Research fellow of 2012/13. Currently, she is registered for a Master of International Politics with the NWU-Mafikeng and has research interests in political parties, party systems, and electoral behavior.

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