On 8 May 2019 South Africans went to the polls to cast their ballots and choose their preferred candidates. Reflections on the role of the Nelson Mandela Foundation as independent election observers can be shared now that the sixth administration has been installed with Cyril Ramaphosa as the new president of the nation.
In the lead-up to the national and provincial election, the Nelson Mandela Foundation engaged with the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) and was accredited as an independent observer organisation in a process led by Verne Harris, the Foundation's Head of Leadership and Knowledge Development, and Khalil Goga, Director of Dialogue at the Foundation. This was the first time the Foundation acted in this capacity.
The Foundation participated as election observers to support and promote public confidence in the efficacy and honesty of the electoral process through independent assessment of voting processes. Our duties on 8 May were effected in Gauteng.
Strategically, delivering on the observer mission mandate provided the Foundation with a unique opportunity to participate in national processes aligned to furthering the institutional objective of becoming a respected change agent in South Africa and beyond.
The observer mission also allowed the Foundation to delve into the most critical component of the democratic process, the voting by citizens, and thereby gain insights into voter behaviour, adherence to legislative prescripts, and other key indicators that are characteristic of free and fair elections.
This critical engagement allowed the Foundation to provide assessment and analysis of observer findings in order to develop insights into and recommendations for strengthening and enhancing trust in our electoral process.
The Foundation's observer mission, led by Foundation Chief Executive Sello Hatang, numbered 43 and comprised Foundation staff and external volunteers from supporters and partners. On election day the observer mission made observations at 56 voting stations across Gauteng. Observers visited voting stations from Mondeor, south of Johannesburg, to Eersterust and Mamelodi near Pretoria
On 10 May 2019 the Foundation joined the IEC and other local and international observer missions in a meeting at which the preliminary observations from the various observer teams were presented to various media houses and the general public.
In his report back to the IEC Mr Hatang remarked that the Foundation had worked closely with a number of other legacy foundations on this project to extend the reach of civil society participation in strengthening and deepening democracy and in supporting the IEC in delivering free and fair elections.
Mr Hatang also raised the concern that while the integrity of the 2019 general election overall is secure, areas of vulnerability in the election process were observed, and that work needs to be done to make the systems more robust.
In closing Mr Hatang also thanked the IEC and its personnel for providing the Foundation with intensive training in preparation for the election and said that, for the Foundation and its fellow volunteer observers, participation as observers provided a rich and rewarding experience, and it was an honour to be part of democracy in action.
The Foundation will deliver a final report to the IEC on 7 June 2019.