Human Rights Day Rally, Sharpville, Johannesburg

Eyewitness to Democracy: South Africa

This article was originally posted on the World Policy Journal blog.

By Le Chen, Janice Dean, Jesper Frant, and Rachana Kumar

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.



Le Chen, Janice Dean, Jesper Frant, and Rachana Kumar are Master of Public Administration students at Columbia University’s School of International Public Affairs. They are working with Ambassador John Campbell. The project was made possible by faculty advisor Professor Anne Nelson.


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