The Institute for Democracy in Africa (IDASA) will close after 27 years due to lack of financial assistance, it announced today. Formed in 1987 during the apartheid era as the Institute for a Democratic Alternative in South Africa, it shifted focus after the seminal 1994 elections to supporting democratic development and changed its name to the Institute for Democracy in Africa.
“We have been privileged to play our part in many of the critical political events of the past two decades, to contribute to the increasing peace and prosperity of many countries in Africa, and to the deepening of democracy in South Africa and elsewhere,” said executive director Paul Graham.
Formed during the anti-apartheid struggle, the group’s strength was its adaptability,” said a prominent analyst.
“Its history and development have been closely tied to the evolution of democracy in South Africa – it has worked under the apartheid regime, states of emergency, a transitional government and democratically elected parliaments,” said Mail and Guardian journalist Moira Levy.
“But while it has changed focus and reshaped its strategy many times over the years, it has always seen itself as a critical ally of democracy,” she notes. “Idasa has engaged in projects and activities covering the widest spectrum of democratic transition and consolidation, not only within the borders of South Africa but also in a growing number of other African nations.”
NED was present at almost the very creation of IDASA, remaining a close friend throughout the institute’s existence, and also nourishing its Goree Institute.
The late Frederick van Zyl Slabbert and Alex Borraine (above) galvanized the anti-apartheid movement when they left parliament, held talks with the exiled opposition African National Congress in Senegal, and launched IDASA in 1986. The group grew to become one of South Africa’s most influential NGOs, serving as an interlocutor between conservatives and radicals, Afrikaaners and blacks, elites and the grassroots, and between South Africa and the international community.
IDASA promoted democracy unabashedly, and explored the many complex policy alternatives confronting South Africa, while adhering firmly to principles of human rights and justice. The group had a major impact on the constitutional negotiations and the truth and reconciliation process, as well as the struggles of civil society.
I will long retain memories of the political electricity at certain IDASA forums; the adventures in conflict mediation conducted by the Durban office, which NED supported for many years; shaking hands with Nelson Mandela at an IDASA workshop; and the spirit of excitement, talent, commitment and energy to shape the future that drove the IDASA staff. Eventually IDASA’s efforts expanded throughout Africa (including Zimbabwe).
I have no doubt that the organization changed the course of history in both South Africa and the continent for the better.