We live in an age in which democracy – save for a few notable exceptions – has been largely accepted as the most legitimate form of government; a time when elections of some description regularly take place in the vast majority (68.9%, according to The Economist) of countries around the world. In the modern world, even the most despotic leaders recognize the popular vote as a legitimizing mandate for government - which is why some endeavor to rig elections in their favor.

In Africa alone, estimates are that around 16 presidential and legislative elections will take place in 2015. But what does it take to build, stabilize and consolidate a modern democracy that lasts? What lessons can we learn from the most successful democratic transitions in the world, and what cautionary tales can we learn from the worst?

This study group will explore some of the complex negotiations and processes behind the foundation of democracies in post-conflict states. Our primary focus will be South Africa’s transition to democracy in 1994, followed by the institution-building process and present-day efforts to entrench democratic principles there.

South Africa is routinely referred to as a country with one of the best constitutions in the world. Given this strong foundation and the relative newness of democratic practice there (only 21 years old this year), the South African context provides fertile ground for a discussion about the challenges of government and representative politics in one of the most complex, unequal and divided societies on earth.

South Africa is also increasingly governed and led by a new generation of political leaders; inheritors not only of the many complexities which characterize South African society, but also custodians of a fledgling political system which must translate early goodwill from the international community into lasting success and leadership for the rest of Africa. What are these young leaders doing to advance democracy in South Africa, and how are they impeding it?

Mazibuko will examine, thematically, the foundations of constitutional democracy, consider its successes and failures, and invite guest speakers from South Africa, Malawi and Zimbabwe to reflect on their efforts to build, stabilize and consolidate democratic principles in their respective countries.

Some of the issues that will be explored and discussed include:

  • What did it take to negotiate a peaceful political settlement in South Africa?

  • How was democracy codified in one of the world’s most respected constitutions, and how is constitutionalism faring 21 years on?

  • What state and non-state institutions support democracy in South Africa?

  • Is there a space for young political leaders in a “start-up democracy”? What role can and should they play in the country’s political life?

  • Do their experiences contain lessons for young aspirant political leaders in more established democracies such as the United States, and what are these?

Mazibuko will also share experiences and perspectives from her tenure as Leader of the Official Opposition in South Africa’s Parliament between 2011 and 2014, as well as her reflections on eight years working in active politics in South Africa. Guest speakers will be invited to share their own experiences working at the coalface of a “start-up democracy” and offer insights into what they believe have been South Africa and the region’s successes and failures in these areas.



22 SEPT 2015: Our first session will take the form of an extended introduction - to South Africa, its transition to democracy and to the nature of political engagement there. A brief tour through South Africa's recent political history will give students the tools with which to analyze the development of what is still a fledgling democracy.

I will also share insights from my tenure in public office, first as a backbench Member of Parliament in South Africa's Official Opposition party, the Democratic Alliance (DA), then as Leader of the Official Opposition in the National Assembly. Through my experiences I hope to give students an impression of what it is like to work as a young political leader at the forefront of a democracy “under construction”. 

WEEK TWO: Free and Fair ElectionS

29 SEPT 2015: Our second session looks at the principle and practice of free and fair elections in a new democracy. We consider some of the complexities of managing, campaigning in and overseeing transitional elections and consider questions such as whether elections alone may be considered a sufficient condition for democracy, and just what the expression “free and fair elections” means in practice.

Stan Greenberg, leading Democratic polling advisor and political strategist, will talk to us about his role advising Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress (ANC) on electoral strategy and polling in South Africa’s first democratic election in 1994, and then advising the official opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) in South Africa’s 2014 general election.

WEEK THREE: How to Impeach a President

6 OCT 2015: This week, I will be discussing my experience of trying to impeach South African President Jacob Zuma for abusing public money in 2014. The topic serves as an example of interaction (and accountability) between the three independent branches of the South African government: executive, legislature, and judiciary. It also shows the the constitution at work, the principles of parliamentary democracy put to the test, and the importance of minority voices  in parliament and in the constitution.

WEEK FOUR: A Peaceful Change of Government

13 OCT 2015: During a democratic transition, a constitutional framework and free and fair elections are intended to facilitate peaceful transitions from repressive to democratic political dispensations. But once democracy has been established, these should also be the means by which a smooth transition between democratic governments may also be facilitated. What happens when these systems are not enough to enable such a transition? To what checks and balances do democratically-elected leaders and political parties have recourse when these systems have been captured by a ruling elite which refuses to give up power?

President Joyce Banda, Malawi’s first female president and former Vice President will discuss with us the 2012 effort by her country’s ruling party cabinet to block her accession to the presidency, following the sudden death of President Bingu wa Mutharika. President Banda will detail how she overcame this deadlock with the aid of Malawi’s army, and discuss the broader implications of her experience and those other heads of state for democratic stability in Africa.

WEEK FIVE: A Vibrant Civil Society

20 OCT 2015: Civil society is one of the sectors of a modern democracy which offers alternative leadership and accountability measures to those located in the party-political system of government. Vibrant and independent civil society movements and non-profit organisations can hold the government accountable for its delivery mandate, set legal precedents by testing constitutional principles in the courts, and act as public advocates for marginalised communities who are unable to influence the public agenda on their own. In South Africa, it was civil society organisations and non-profits such as the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) which led the public effort to bring an end to the government’s disastrous policies on HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention. And in 2012, when the South African ruling party attempted to push the Protection of State Information Bill (also known as the “Secrecy Bill”) through Parliament - a draft law which ran the risk of criminalising investigative journalism by the free media - it was a coalition of civil society movements working with the press and opposition parties which brought international attention to this dangerous precedent.

The Hon. Wilmot James MP is a South African academic-turned-opposition political leader who served as Executive Director of the Institute for Democracy in South Africa (IDASA) and as Dean of the Humanities Faculty at the University of Cape Town (UCT). He will discuss the pivotal role of civil society organisations in South African and African public life, and reflect upon why this important pillar of a new democracy has been in decline there since the turn of the 21st century.


27 OCT 2015: This week, I will discuss my experiences as a woman in power within the South African government system. I will share a variety of experiences from my term of office as Leader of the Opposition in South Africa’s Parliament, and highlight the critical role of women in government in building a new democracy and mentoring the next generation of female leaders.




3 NOV 2015: Some of the most celebrated constitutions in the world are the newest, drawing as they do upon generations of experience in establishing democracy around the world. But what is it like to participate in the long, complex and often fraught process of negotiating, drafting and passing a new constitution? How much more fraught is this fragile process when the negotiations take place as a country is emerging from conflict?

Tendai Biti is the former Secretary-General of Zimbabwe’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-Tsvangirai), and Member of Parliament for Harare-East. Mr. Biti served in Zimbabwe’s unity government as the Minister of Finance from 2009 to 2013, and participated in the constitutional negotiations which led up to its formation.


10 NOV 2015: A new democracy may stand or fall based on the capacity, strength and independence of the state institutions which support it. South Africa’s constitution devotes an entire chapter - Chapter 9 - to the establishment and running of 6 independent state institutions to support democracy - this in addition to the constitutional provisions governing institutions such as the Public Broadcasting Corporation and the Central Bank. But how do new democracies, on the back of fierce loyalty to and appointments made by a ruling party of liberation and transition, maintain the integrity and independence of the state institutions which support them?

Governor Tito Mboweni was democratic South Africa’s first central bank governor (following Christian Stals, whom President Nelson Mandela kept on from the previous administration until 1999). He previously served as Minister of Labour in President Mandela’s first democratic cabinet. Governor Mboweni will discuss with us the role of independent state institutions, and of the central bank in particular, in setting monetary policy in support of a constitutional democracy emerging from deep economic and social divisions. He will also look to the future of South Africa - the country we have spent this semester analysing - and offer us his assessment of how the democratic project will unfold there. Is South Africa an example of a new democracy which has the people, laws and institutions necessary to sustain it far into the future? Or do perilous times lie ahead for the “Rainbow Nation”?