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Brussels, noviembre 2007

Activities: Election monitoring in South Africa

The first and foremost activity of all NGO monitoring teams was to make their presence known by visits to political actors and authorities, and to build contact networks. (1) This was the background against which both their peacekeeping and their peacemaking efforts took place.

Keywords: Africa del Sur

Peacekeeping Activities

1. Basic monitoring and presence :

  • Monitoring and presence at public meetings, demonstrations, occupations, strikes, compulsive transfers of illegal settlers, allocation of plots of land for homeless people, funerals, etc. (2) The mission in KwaZulu/Natal also offered accompaniment of participants in political meetings on their way to and from these events.

  • Monitoring the actions of the security forces was seen as a very important function (3). NIM made sure (e.g. by phone calls ahead of time) that the police were present at public meetings, reminding them of the Code of Conduct agreed upon, and observing their behaviour.

  • Monitoring the elections: The EMPSA election team (that arrived only two weeks before the elections) monitored the preparations (registration and training of the monitors, the establishment of polling stations, and training of election monitors) as well as mounting a presence at polling stations on election day. The UN observers who came into the country for only a few weeks before and during the elections also concentrated their monitoring (4) efforts on activities related to the elections (such as the establishment of polling and counting stations).

2. Direct interpositioning played a larger part with NIM and the Ecumenical Peacemaker Programme than with EMPSA (5) NIM monitors intervened in possible crisis situations, e.g. when a train of demonstrators threatened to leave the agreed route and enter the area of its opponents; and contributed in creating links between the local population and the authorities/security forces. But EMPSA also reported interpositioning between different groups at public political meetings, demonstrations and funerals.

3. Investigative monitoring: NIM monitors especially investigated cases of violence, took witness statements, followed up on police investigations, investigated and refuted rumours, mapped areas of conflict, wrote reports, mapped illegal armed activities, etc. Also EMPSA monitors participated during police investigations and identification parades.

Peacemaking activities

Peacemaking activities mainly took place on a local/regional or sectional (work conflicts) basis. They included:

  • 1. Creating contacts between rival political actors (EMPSA);

  • 2. Supporting the local inhabitants’ contacts with the authorities and with the security forces (EMPSA);

  • 3. Mediation attempts such as in taxi wars and strikes (EMPSA);

  • 4. NIM monitors actively took part in different types of confidence-creating measures, participated in meetings between disputing parties, organised meetings in areas affected by conflict, and implemented mediation in some individual cases. (6)

Peacebuilding activities

Peacebuilding was not an activity that loomed high in the descriptions of the South African missions, but there have been certain activities in this field:

1. Civil Society Building

  • The monitors working with NIM were involved in some organisational work such as the establishment of functioning offices, discussions with and training of recipient organisations on how to structure their work, etc.

  • Networking: The peace monitors contributed to improving information exchange between different organisations.

  • Support: The monitors supported different local initiatives to stop violence (EMPSA).

2. Humanitarian Aid

  • There were a few activities related to supporting victims of violence, visiting homes of the families of victims of violence (KwaZulu/Natal), and contributing to the contact between victims and the authorities or aid organisations (EMPSA);

  • Giving first aid, calling ambulances or transporting wounded people to hospitals which saved the lives of several people (EMPSA).

Also most missions engaged in report writing, but it is unclear what happened to these reports and how they were used (if at all).

The short length of stay of EMPSA monitors has been criticised. The monitors themselves felt the time was too short. The locals complained that the quick turn-over meant that, as soon as they got used to people they disappeared and new ones had to be introduced.

EMPSA started working before it had the infrastructure in place. Specifically, local support in South Africa was not a given. Other shortcomings related to administration and organisation were also reported–for example, that the program was too centralised, with the national office reserving all important decisions to itself (7). Also, the report of a participant in the 1996 Ecumenical Peacemakers Programme states that internationals were a great help but their integration also caused many questions and problems for the locals (8). NIM monitors faced many problems at the start because their local recipient groups did not have the infrastructure and equipment (housing, cars, fax, phones, radio communication) in place. This limited their work, and/or increased the risk (lack of radio communication) (9).

Notes :

  • (1) : Ewald/Thörn 1994:74 p., 89 p., 98 p.

  • (2) : For example when 400 pupils, who demonstrated against the arrest of one of their fellows for bringing a weapon into the school, met with police on a sports field to discuss the issue. (Ecumenical Peacemaker Programme, See Schmidt 1997)

  • (3) : Ewald/Thörn 1994:109 p.

  • (4) : But, like the others, they were also present at political meetings and funerals.

  • (5) : This is explained the short length of their stay. See Ewald/Thörn 1994:89.

  • (6) : Ewald/Thörn 1994:74 p., and 99p. say that there were such cases, but do not describe them.

  • (7) : Ewald/Thörn 1994:72 p.

  • (8) : Schmidt 1997

  • (9) : Ewald/Thörn 1994:94 p. Although Ewald and Thörn point out that the fact that monitors tended to take more risks when they had radio equipment might also mean taking unnecessary risks.