John Campbell

Africa in Transition

Campbell tracks political and security developments across sub-Saharan Africa.

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Eyewitness to Democracy: South Africa

by Guest Blogger for John Campbell
May 7, 2014

Winnie Madikizela Mandela casts her ballot in Johannesburg's Soweto township, May 7, 2014. (Mike Hutchings/Courtesy Reuters)


This is a guest post by Le Chen, Janice Dean, Jesper Frant, and Rachana Kumar. They are Master of Public Administration students at Columbia University’s School of International Public Affairs. They are working with Ambassador John Campbell on a graduate practicum project, which was made possible by faculty adviser Professor Anne Nelson. A version of this post appeared on the World Policy Blog.

The May elections in South Africa will be a bellwether for the future of the young democracy experts from around the globe are weighing in on the possibilities. We at Columbia University wanted to witness this historic moment in history first-hand, and collect field research on the South African political sphere. We traveled to the country and interviewed journalists, academics, civil rights advocates, and local officials to create the South Africa Service Delivery Protest Tracker – a student consulting project for the Council on Foreign Relations.

Throughout our field research, we were interested in three critical questions. How do South Africans feel about the upcoming elections? How does Nelson Mandela’s legacy impact the development of this young democracy? How does South African democracy manifest itself at the local level?

As our video shows, South Africans maintain a sense of guarded optimism about the stability and effectiveness of their government in the lead up to the elections. They still feel very much in touch with Nelson Mandela’s legacy, using it as a guiding light for democracy. And in working to attain democracy, the people of South Africa frequently take to the streets to express their rights and grievances.

For full background on the project, check out the parent blog, “Tracking South Africa’s Democracy In Real Time.”

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