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Brussels, November 2007

Character and goals: Election monitoring in South Africa

Background to the election monitoring programs.

Keywords: South Africa

The process of transition from the racist apartheid regime to a multiethnic and democratic South Africa led up to the first non-racist and free elections in 1994. The period before the elections was marked by much violence in different regions of the country. After the elections violence continued, specifically in KwaZulu/Natal where followers of the ANC and Inkatha were fighting each other, leading to the postponement of local elections in that province from November 1995 to the end of June 1996. This development provided the impetus for another monitoring project.

During the elections in 1994 both NGOs and intergovernmental organisations sent civilian monitors.

The NGO mission with the largest number of monitors was the Ecumenical Monitoring Programme (EMPSA)(1) organised by the South African Catholic Bishops Conference and South African Council of Churches with the World Council of Churches. It ran from 1992 to 1994, with a total of 443 participants, about two thirds of them operating in the year of the elections. Three types of monitors were used: an Eminent Persons Group that was supposed to stay up to one week; a group of experts that stayed up to two weeks; and field monitors who served in small teams of two to four persons(2) for a period of six weeks. These time periods included preparation and debriefing at the beginning and the end of the mission.(3) The mandate of the EMPSA monitors included monitoring of politically motivated violence; investigating its causes and, if possible, preventing it from breaking out; monitoring and reporting on the negotiation process; and monitoring and reporting on the election process in its entirety.

Another larger monitoring program was set up by the Network of Independent Monitors (NIM), a South African umbrella organisation of some 40 NGOs. They deployed local and international monitors in teams who worked together an average of five months per monitor in 1994, the year of the elections. The mandate of the monitors took four main forms:

  • Basic monitoring, by presence at political meetings, funerals etc., and partly by short-term investigation (, collecting witness accounts);

  • Crisis intervention and, for example, when a train of demonstrators threatened to detour from the agreed route; and mediation between actors in conflict;

  • Investigative monitoring, e.g. investigation of the background of political murders, or mapping of illegal armed activities;

  • Long-term mediation to solve conflicts on a long-term basis.(4)

In addition, several other observation and monitoring programs and organisations were present before and at the time of the National Elections (5), including several intergovernmental missions:(6)

  • The United Nations sent an Observation Mission (UNOMSA) of about 500 observers who were deployed by the end of March 1994. Their number was strengthened in April by an additional 1,485 election observers.

  • The Organization of African Unity (OAU) sent 102 observers

  • The Commonwealth sent 118 observers

  • The European Union sent 322 observers.

The mandate of UNOMSA included monitoring and reporting on voter education; monitoring the distribution of temporary voter cards; and observing the Independent Electoral Commission in its selection of sites and establishment of balloting and counting stations. It also monitored compliance by the security forces with the requirements of the law relating to the electoral process, and equitable access to the media. UNOMSA also co-ordinated with South African and foreign NGOs on issues related to monitoring and observation.

The total number of observers deployed by intergovernmental observer missions and co-operating under the umbrella of the UN Mission was 2,527 persons:

In 1996, a coalition of local churches in KwaZulu/Natal (the KwaZulu Natal-Church Leaders Group- KCLG) organised a program called “Ecumenical Peacemakers Programme » (7) in relation to the upcoming local elections in that province. The mandate of the peacemakers was not only to monitor and report, but to intervene actively and mediate between conflict parties. The volunteers–20 internationals and 80 South Africans–were deployed in five regions of KwaZulu/Natal for a period of three months per person. Each region was headed by a regional co-ordinator. The internationals received a one-week training in South Africa before beginning to work in teams of three internationals. One of their first tasks was to recruit 15 local peacemakers each, and train them with the help of experts.


  • (1) : All information on EMPSA and NIM was taken from Ewald/Thörn 1994 who evaluated the Swedish contribution to those two (and another third) project.

  • (2) : The teams in their entirety were exchanged after 6 weeks; there was no overlap.

  • (3) : There were various reasons given for the short time of service. One consideration was that the field monitors were recruited on a non-profit basis. Another point was to have as many international participants as possible. Furthermore, monitors would be traumatised and/or too emotionally involved and thereby risk losing their neutrality if they stayed too long. (Ewald/Thörn 1994:69)

  • (4) : Ewald/Thörn 1994:74p. There are no real examples of that part of the mandate.

  • (5) : For example, there was a small number of international experts (e.g. on radio communication) working with the Wits Vaal Regional Peace Secretariat, recruited by the Swedish coalition PEMSA that also recruited and sent Swedish participants to EMPSA and NIM (Ewald/Thörn 1994:79 pp).

  • (6) : According to Ramsbotham/Woodhouse 1999:229.

  • (7) : See Schmidt 1997 for all information given here on that program.