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    Empowering Scholars: The Rewards and Insights of International Election Observation

    June 20, 2024

    Written by Christopher Lambry '27, Top Ranking Scholar & Philosophy Major

    May 29th, 2024 marked a pivotal moment in South African politics. This year's election commemorated the 30th anniversary of the abolition of the brutal apartheid system, a monumental achievement made possible by the efforts of the historic Anti-Apartheid Party, the African National Congress (ANC), and iconic leaders such as Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu. Elections in South Africa follow a five-year cycle, with national and provincial elections held simultaneously and municipal elections held two years later.

    A great deal of voter apathy and disenchantment with the ANC overshadowed this significant milestone in the country's political history. Since Mandela's leadership in the early 1990s, the ANC has maintained a majority in parliament. However, for the first time in 30 years, the party faces a serious threat to its majority. Despite the party's strong efforts to advance progress in South Africa, voters are increasingly frustrated by the persistent lack of necessities such as water and electricity.

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    As part of the AYCGL’s Oprah Winfrey Scholars Program and Social Justice Scholars Program, a group of Morehouse scholars, including myself, had the opportunity to serve as International Election Observers on behalf of the Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC). We witnessed firsthand the progression of democracy in this vibrant country and its voting process. The IEC, an independent constitutional body, manages free and fair elections for legislative bodies and institutions through the participation of citizens, political parties, and civil society, thereby deepening electoral democracy.

    To further understand the intricacies of politics in South Africa, we scholars also compared voter disparities within the country and back home in the United States. By observing multiple voting stations, including one in a majority Jewish area with a long history of voter engagement and another in a majority Muslim area, across two different provinces, we saw stark contrasts in access, technology, and engagement.

    In the majority Muslim district, it became evident that voters were extremely disappointed with the current state of affairs. Many voiced their frustration loudly as the lines grew longer and the voting process slowed. In comparison, other provinces had better access, including improved technology, increased voting station staff, and the ability to skip ahead in line under certain circumstances, such as having children—an option that seemed available only in the more affluent Jewish area. These alarming disparities made the frustration of voters in less-equipped areas seem almost warranted.

    Being an election observer is an intimidating yet rewarding and informative task. It is an experience I would eagerly embrace every year, given the opportunity. This experience equips scholars with a better understanding of both the country they visit and their own voting processes back home. Reflecting on these observations, it's clear that the journey of democracy is ongoing and fraught with challenges, but witnessing it firsthand offers invaluable insights into the perseverance and hopes of a nation striving for a better future.

    Tag(s): Student Success

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