Seminars and Workshops
TRU Seminar: 21 November, 2017


Dialogue towards a democratic South Africa


Co-host: Prof. Henning Melber, Van Zyl Slabbert Visiting Professor at the University of Cape Town


Presenters: Helmut Orbon and Christopher Makuvaza


Helmut Orbon was member of the local facilitation team providing a forum for exchanges between South Africans of different backgrounds.


Title: Frederik Van Zyl Slabbert, the Dialogue Programmed on Cold Comfort and the Pitfalls of Ideology


Summary of paper: The Dialogue Programmed between black and white South Africans in the late 80s and early 90s conducted in Zimbabwe and elsewhere, made a significant contribution to the largely peaceful transition from apartheid to democracy in South Africa. The dialogue was first conducted at the Cold Comfort Farm established in Rhodesia in the 1960s on St. Faith Mission in Rusape, some 150 km east of Harare, by the British missionary and agriculturalist Guy Clutton-Brock. The Cold Comfort Farm soon became a centre for non-acial partnership policies and a kind of Mecca for black nationalists in Rhodesia. Many leading members of the liberation movement were part of the Cold Comfort Farm.


Two key figures: Frederik Van Zyl Slabbert and Alex Boraine, and the Institute for a Democratic Alternative in South Africa (IDASA) more broadly, were the architects of the dialogue. They had managed to initiate the right thing at the right time because they saw a window of opportunity and were able to act without ideological constraints or the baggage of political parties and governments. They were the agents of change that all societies need, especially at critical junctures in their history.


In July 1987 IDASA and the ANC organized a historic conference in Dakar in Senegal. There, Van Zyl Slabbert and Alex Borane reached an agreement with Thabo Mbeki, the then Secretary for Foreign Affairs in the National Executive of the ANC, to explore the possibility for discussions between influential Afrikaaners and the ANC on issues like the armed struggle and negotiations, political pluralism, national unity, and the future of Afrikaans and Afrikaaner culture. The negotiators also agreed to hold further meetings and on their way back from Dakar Van Zyl Slabbert and Thabo Mbeki met with the Government of Zimbabwe to explore the possibility of holding some of these meetings in Zimbabwe.


The subsequent meetings between the ANC and white South Africans, in particular the Afrikaners, were facilitated by the Zimbabwe Institute for Southern Africa’s (ZISA). Between 1987 and 1993 more than 50 meetings were held. The main participants came from South African Universities, in particular the University of Stellenbosch, the business community, civil society organizations and churches. Many of the South African participants had a hard time on their return from Government officials and their respective communities. Over time this pressure eased and when P.W. Botha suffered a stroke and first the Chairmanship of the ruling party and later the Presidency of the country were taken over by Klerk, the encounters no longer presented a risk for the white participants.


In the early 1990s the dialogue on transition to democracy in South Africa moved into South Africa. From there on the ZISA programme focused more on facilitating exposure for South Africans to the experience of independence in Zimbabwe and Southern Africa. A core activity became the Summer School Programme allowing students from different universities in South Africa to meet with students from universities in Southern and Eastern Africa to discuss issues such as, for example, the one-party-state, which at that time was a highly debated and controversial topic in the region. The South African students also participated in a public- private sector internship allowing them to experience a non-racial social and work environment so as to prepare them for life in the future South Africa.


Christopher Makuvaza is a PhD candidate at the Centre for Africa Studies at the University of the Free State reporting on his research progress.


Abstract: Zimbabwe Institute for Southern Africa’s (ZISA) contribution to transition in South Africa: 1987 – 1995


The research aims to document the dialogue process facilitated by the Zimbabwe Institute for Southern Africa (ZISA) between black and white South Africans in the context of the overall mediation leading to democratic transition in South Africa. Of particular interest is the strictly facilitating role ZISA played as a non-governmental organization, and the lessons that might be learnt from ZISA’s experience that could be of relevance to the current conflict contexts in the region. In the absence of most records the study relies on interviews with the some of the key former participants in the mediation, of whom seventeen have been interviewed to-date. They comprise former ZISA staff members, a former Cabinet Minister, an AZAPO official, a former ANC youth leader, a former business leader, a former IDASA employee, a former IDAF senior executive, a journalist, a former diplomat, a retired judge and five academics. This is a work in progress with the candidate seeking a receiving advice and feedback from the academic attendees at the seminar.

TRU Seminar: 25 June, 2016


Hosting colleagues from Toronto University


On 25 June, 2016, TRU hosted Joseph Wong, Ralph and Roz Halbert Professor of Innovation at the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto in Canada, and five of his student assistants. The group visited South Africa to conduct interviews with South African organisations responsible for birth registrations in the country. Their pre-visit investigation concluded that South Africa has done a remarkable job in increasing the birth registration rate since the 1980s. They ascribed this to a host of factors, including: increased access to rural health facilities beginning in 1994; the introduction of the child support grant in 1998, and its expansion thereafter; the introduction of mobile solutions (ICROP) and on-line registrations; some positive re-organization in the Department of Home Affairs; and, last but not least, the introduction of democracy and citizenship.


The visit formed part of an on-going research focused on the political economy of “reach” bringing development interventions to the hardest to reach global communities. Prof Wong’s previous fieldwork on conditional cash transfer system was conducted in Brazil. The results were published the Bulletin of the WHO (​).


The visit made it possible both for the TRU students to meet and interact with their Canadian peers and for TRU members to discuss the contribution Prof. Wong has undertaken to make to the planned TRU book on the legitimacy of democracy in various global cultural contexts. His contribution will focus on South Korea in the East Asian context.

TRU workshop: 4-7 April, 2016


Africa in context


TRU: Democracy Globally full research team

Research agenda TRU: Democracy Globally


Project (2015-2017): Political institutions and cultural contexts


The project examines South Africa in both the regional southern African context and in a cross-cultural perspective. The sub-Saharan set of cases includes Namibia, Zimbabwe and Botswana. In the global context South Africa is being assessed against countries scattered across the globe. The latter cases include three transformation countries: South Korea, Chile and Poland; Turkey, which serves to expand the cultural variation of the study; as well as Sweden and Germany, which are used as a yardstick against which to assess the defining features of a consolidated democracy. The analyses take congisance of global shifts and events bearing on the development of democracy. ​


The research is empirically embedded and draws on individual and aggregate data sources. The research question is being developed within the framework of political culture. This paradigm states that a political regime has a long-term chance of survival only if there is congruence between political structure and political culture. In other words, citizens need to support the democratic institutions in their land. The project combines a high level of variation across cultural regions with methodical individual country studies and is conducted within a dynamic time perspective.

TRU workshop: 2-3 November, 2015

Global democracy: Political institutions and cultural contexts.

A closer look at southern Africa​


TRU: Southern Africa research group

Research agenda TRU: Southern Africa


Cases: South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe


Research focus: Democratic political culture​


Assumption 1:
Competitive prospects for a regime to survive are affected by whether actors intrinsically value democracy as a political system
Questions to consider:
How do citizens in the southern African region view democracy?


Assumption 2:
Democracy requires a culture of moderation, cooperation, bargaining, accommodation and civility. Thus policy of moderation, not radicalism, promotes the survival of democratic regimes.
Questions to consider:
Do moderate or radical actors and policies dominate in the southern African countries? What are the respective sources of moderation and radicalism?


Assumption 3:
Protestantism is known to create favourable conditions for democracies to emerge. Transitional states with larger Protestant populations are more likely to have higher levels of voice and accountability, political stability, citizenship empowerment, and civil society pluralism
Questions to consider:
Since Protestantism is prevalent in each of the southern African case studies what has been its influence, if any? If Protestantism in the region lacks any real positive influence, why?


Data sources:

World Values Survey (WVS)
Elite surveys


Main analytical dimensions:

Political culture
Civic culture
Social structures
Trust and tolerance
Legislature and fiscal policy

TRU Seminar: 17 September, 2015

Presenters: Prof. Christian Welzel and Assoc. Prof. A. Alexander

Christian Welzel is the Political Culture Research Professor at Leup​hana University in Lueneburg, Germany. He is also former President and Vice-President of the World Values Survey Association, and is the Foreign Consultant to the Laboratory for Comparative Social Research at the National Research University/Higher School of Economics in St. Petersburg and Moscow, Russia. His research focuses on human empowerment, emancipative values, cultural change and democratization. He is the recipient of various large-scale grants and is the author of more than a hundred scholarly publications.


At the TRU seminar the presenter introduced his latest work: Freedom Rising (2013), winner of the Alexander George Award and the Stein Rokkan Prize.

Abstract: Freedom Rising offers a comprehensive theory of why human freedom gave way to increasing oppression since the invention of states, and why this trend began to reverse itself more recently, leading to a rapid expansion of universal freedoms and democracy. A massive body of evidence has been used to test various explanations of the rise of freedoms, providing convincing support of a well-reasoned theory of emancipation. The study demonstrates multiple trends towards human empowerment, which converge in giving people control over their lives. Most important among these trends is the spread of ‘emancipative values,’ which emphasize free choice and equal opportunities. The author identifies the desire for emancipation as the origin of the human empowerment trend and shows when and why this desire grows strong, why it is the source of democracy, how it vitalizes civil society, rebuilds social capital, feeds humanitarian norms, enhances happiness, and helps to redirect modern civilization towards sustainable development.

Amy Alexander is an Assistant Professor at the Quality of Government Institute in the Department of Political Science. University of Gothenburg, Sweden. Her most recent research focuses on the role gender equality plays in democracies’ achievements in various aspects of quality of government. She pursues this research agenda as part of a team of researchers working on multiple aspects of democratic performance and quality of government headed by Bo Rothstein through the PERDEM project. Her research is focused on ‘women and politics’ as the sources of women’s political empowerment and how this empowerment affects political representation, social values and democratization across the globe. ​​

Abstract: The presenter focused her talk on gender role socialization as a normative driver of a society’s larger culture of power and its implications for quality of government. She discussed the theoretical and empirical leverage that can be gained from looking deeper at the unique advance in gender equality in the household in Western Europe circa 1500 as indicative of how early grassroots’ mass patterns in gendered norms and behaviours send countries on virtuous or vicious trajectories in the interplay between household equality, female empowerment and egalitarian state capacity. Fertility data for gauging the long term effects of household gender equality on quality of government from 1800 up until today were presented, the contention being that fertility rates offer insights into the informal, grassroots’ structures of equality that operate largely through gendered norms and are as vital to the historical development of quality of government.