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International monitoring of the transition to democracy in South Africa, 1992-1994.

South Africa's first democratic elections have a strong claim to being the most monitored elections ever. This is evident from the number of national and international observers deployed, the length of the period of pre-election monitoring, and the range of election-related activities subject to monitoring. What accounted for this unprecedented domestic and global interest and concern? In the first place, in the absence of any robust tradition of political tolerance among either blacks or whites, grave doubts existed concerning the feasibility of conducting free and fair elections. Powerful voices in the country openly declared their determination to disrupt them. The sincerity of the apartheid regime was suspect, while evidence of security force complicity in the widespread violence was mounting. Above all, these were liberation elections with immense symbolic as well as substantive significance. Not surprisingly, they proved a powerful magnet for the international community which had long felt a deep emotional commitment to the liberation struggle in South Africa.(1)

Until the week prior to the elections, the campaign was characterized by violent conflict, especially in KwaZulu-Natal and on the East Rand. Yet, in the end, the very real fears concerning the prospects of relatively peaceful elections miraculously did not materialize. Supreme efforts on the part of the African National Congress (ANC) and the National Party (NP) government finally induced the last minute participation in the elections of two ethnic nationalist parties with great disruptive potential: the white Freedom Front (FF) and the black Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP). Almost overnight, politically-related violence plummeted dramatically. In the process, the course and character of the elections were transformed.

In addition to the political context and constraints within which elections were conducted, the electoral arrangements on the ground are also crucial to an understanding of the role observers played. The decision of the IFP one week before the voting to enter the contest compounded the profusion of problems already plaguing the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC). Not only had 80 million ballots been printed, necessitating the provision of an equal number of IFP stickers which then had to be distributed and affixed, but an additional 549 voting stations in IFP 'no-go' areas had suddenly to be identified, equipped and staffed.

The architects of the electoral system assumed a high probability of electoral fraud. They also feared that the losers might reject the outcome. Accordingly, they built into the Electoral Act a host of checks which made the procedures difficult for the public to understand and for the IEC to implement. Moreover, ten elections were held simultaneously - one national and nine provincial - with each voter receiving two ballots. In the absence of voters' lists, a voter could cast his or her ballot at any of the 10,006 voting stations. Each voting station had a staff of 26 - again to minimize electoral abuse. That necessitated the appointment of some 260,000 election officials at the primary level alone. The great majority of these were recruited very late - 13,000 in the last two days - and trained during the final week to the extent that this proved possible. Many of the voting stations were almost inaccessible; fully one-third could not be serviced by telephone.

A major crisis ensued with the breakdown in the distribution of election materials, principally in the townships. In some 1,700 of the voting stations, there were serious delays in opening. Others closed early when they ran out of ballots or other essential supplies. Not one of the voting stations on the volatile East Rand was operational by the end of the first day; some barely opened by closing time on the final day.(2) Not unreasonably, there were genuine fears that voting stations might be targets of armed attack. Accordingly, at the end of each day the sealed ballot boxes were transferred to secure locations, pending later reconciliation and recording of the ballots at counting stations. Yet, the failure to keep proper (or any) records of ballot boxes checked in produced conditions of chaos at many of the counting stations, and dangerous delays in announcing the results. According to the IEC chairman, Judge Johann Kriegler, the counting process came 'closer to disaster' than even the debacle over voting.(3)

Compelling political reasons dictated that, ready or not, the elections had to go ahead on schedule. In the circumstances, the marvel is that the system worked at all. Moreover, the IEC was able to announce a credible result which found near universal acceptance by the parties. In pronouncing a verdict on the success of its own efforts, IEC members declared the process 'substantially free and fair' overall. It was a judgment that was received by a nervous nation with profound relief. No one was more surprised and pleased than Judge Kriegler. 'If you don't believe in miracles,' he confessed, 'you haven't seen an election in South Africa'.(4)

Monitoring is a process in which individuals or groups so mandated observe, investigate, report on and frequently pronounce upon and/or respond to the actions of parties to a conflict on the basis of commonly accepted or formally prescribed norms of behaviour. In the case of South Africa, the massive monitoring exercise differed in significant respects from patterns established elsewhere. Among its distinctive features were: (1) the scale and importance of domestic participation in the monitoring; (2) the emphasis accorded the monitoring of violence in the run-up to the elections and the promotion of peace as a prerequisite for an acceptable outcome; (3) the range and prominence of specialist monitors, including monitors monitoring official monitors; (4) the absence of any foreign military presence; and (5) the number and extraordinary diversity of the monitoring groups, organizationally and operationally.

One issue clarified comparatively early was the legal framework within which election observers would operate. This was laid down in the Independent Electoral Commission Act, passed by Parliament in September 1993 though not in force until December. In IEC terminology, there were four categories of observers: party agents, domestic monitors (employed by the IEC), domestic and foreign NGO observers (registered with the IEC), and international observers (appointed by intergovernmental organizations and foreign governments, and accredited by the Transitional Executive Council).(5) This study seeks to assess the scale, scope and impact of the first foreign monitors in the field - the intergovernmental observers. While in terms of numbers their effort peaked at the time of the elections, equally if not more significant was the contribution they made observing conditions prevailing throughout the country during the preceding troubled year and a half. Their intervention constituted a unique instance of 'preventive deployment' as envisaged in the Secretary-General's Agenda for Peace.(6)


Appeals for international monitoring of the transition process emerged during the early months of 1992, initially in the context of the escalating violence in the country. Church leaders were the first to lobby the government. In the course of a meeting with President F. W. de Klerk at the end of March 1992, a delegation headed by Archbishop Desmond Tutu urged the government to 'recognize the value of an international monitoring mechanism' in coping with the violence.(7) The State President, bolstered by his victory in the white referendum earlier in the month, reacted angrily to the idea, dismissing it as a gross infringement of South African sovereignty and a grave challenge to the legitimacy of his government. Within three months, Pretoria was compelled to reconsider its categorical rejection of international monitoring. Two developments in particular prompted public interest in the idea:(8) (1) the collapse of constitutional negotiations in CODESA II - the multi-party Convention for a Democratic South Africa - in May 1992; and (2) the horrific massacre in Boipatong ('place of safety') the following month, which dramatized forcefully the inability of the major political actors on their own to stem the rising tide of violence through the mechanism of the toothless National Peace Accord which they had all solemnly signed in September 1991. A third factor also altered attitudes: recognition that an international peacekeeping force on the model of UNTAG in Namibia was politically unacceptable. Not only was the government adamant in its opposition, but support within the ANC was ambivalent at best. While militants in the ANC-SACP-COSATU tripartite alliance reacted to Boipatong by taking to the streets in a campaign of 'rolling mass action', Nelson Mandela turned to the UN to 'find means and ways to normalize the deteriorating situation in South Africa and to try to resume the negotiations'. His declared objective was to mobilize support for international monitoring and investigation of the violence.(9) This did not prove easy. In Pretoria's hierarchy of demons, the United Nations ranked below only the Kremlin. Moreover, Mandela's first appeal to the UN in April 1992 had fallen on deaf ears. This time the ANC sought the assistance of the Organization of African Unity (OAU). Fortuitously, its Council of Ministers was meeting in Dakar in late June. Not only did it agree to call for the 'urgent convening' of the UN Security Council 'to examine the issue of violence in South Africa and to take all appropriate action to put an end to it'. The OAU also mandated a ministerial delegation to carry the South African case to New York in person, when the Council met in mid-July.(10)

The ANC's success in dragging the South African government before the world body and putting the 'Question of South Africa' back on the international agenda represented a considerable diplomatic triumph. Admittedly, for tactical reasons, it decided (as did the OAU) not to press for an immediate observer presence in South Africa. Instead, in his address to the Security Council, Mandela merely requested the speedy appointment of a Special Representative to recommend action 'to help us end the violence'. He urged, however, that when the necessary measures were implemented there should also be 'continuing monitoring of the situation' to ensure their effectiveness.(11) In response, Foreign Minister 'Pik' Botha, in a typically suave but disingenuous address, reiterated the familiar Pretoria contention that only South Africans could resolve South Africa's conflicts. As an alternative to international involvement, he proposed a meeting of de Klerk, Mandela and Buthelezi to consider 'the advisability of a joint monitoring body' of the three parties 'to defuse and solve problems that could give rise to violence'.(12)

In the event, the Security Council resolution did authorise the Secretary-General to appoint, as a matter of urgency, a Special Representative - the choice fell on Cyrus Vance - charged with recommending 'measures which would assist in bringing an effective end to the violence and in creating conditions for negotiations'.(13) While this was less than the ANC had initially hoped for, it did establish an important UN bridgehead in South Africa. Moreover, even prior to receiving the Vance report, Boutros Boutros-Ghali felt compelled to take further 'exceptional interim measures'. Fearing that the mass action scheduled for 3 August might 'erupt into uncontrollable violence' and acting on a suggestion that Mandela had put forward, he hurriedly despatched a 10-member team to South Africa to observe developments. The South African government raised no objection to this initiative, asking only that the observers be impartial and objective and operate 'in coordination with the National Peace Secretariat'.(14)

The positive influence that the presence of the UN observer team exercised on the mass action demonstrators,(15) combined with Foreign Minister Botha's earlier not unpleasant reintroduction into Security Council politics, contributed to reducing the South African government's paranoia concerning UN intentions. It even began to appreciate that it might be able to manipulate the UN to its own advantage. This was an argument that the US government had attempted with great difficulty to sell to Pretoria. Washington had pointed out that, rather than treating the UN as the enemy, a UN presence could 'in effect give legitimacy to the whole process that de Klerk had unleashed'. According to Herman Cohen, US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, 'Pik' Botha and his director-general, Neil van Heerden, both 'understood what we were driving at, but [to] the guys in the cabinet around de Klerk, it just boggled their minds'.(16)

In his report to the Security Council on the Vance fact-finding mission, the UN Secretary-General recommended that the UN make available an observer team 'to serve in South Africa, in close association with the National Peace Secretariat'. At the same time, he called for 'early and detailed discussions' with Pretoria (and other relevant parties) on 'practical arrangements' for the mission.(17) Happily, the South African government - although still deeply suspicious - no longer opposed the idea in principle. Accordingly, in mid-August, the Security Council sanctioned the establishment of UNOMSA - the UN Observer Mission in South Africa. Within a month an advance party of 13 had arrived in Johannesburg. It was followed over the next two months by similar observer missions from the Commonwealth (COMSA), the European Community (ECOMSA), and the Organization of African Unity - a development that Security Council members warmly welcomed. They were feeling the pressure of mounting demands from around the world for the provision of 'peacekeepers' of one kind or another, and were anxious for others to share the burden. For this reason, acting on a recommendation of the Secretary-General, the Council had invited other international organizations to consider deploying their own observers 'in coordination with the United Nations and the structures set up under the National Peace Accord'.(18)


Although the four inter-governmental observer groups operated under the same basic mandate - UN Security Council resolution 772 - each maintained a separate identity, derived its authority from its own institutional structures, and reported to them rather than to the UN. In the case of the Commonwealth, its Secretary-General Chief Emeka Anyaoku acting in the spirit of the Harare Communique of October 1991 and after consultations with member governments, took the initiative in proposing COMSA. During a visit to South Africa at the beginning of July 1992, he sounded out South Africans, who responded favourably. With the added encouragement of resolution 772 adopted in August, Chief Anyaoku proceeded to canvas Commonwealth states for nominations. By mid-October the first COMSA members arrived in South Africa.(19)

Inter-governmental observers of the transition to democracy in
South Africa

                              Peace                  Election
                            observers              observers(*)

United Nations         UNOMSA          50      UNOMSA          1985

European Union         ECOMSA          20      EUNELSA          322

Commonwealth           COMSA           17      COGSA            104

Organization of        OAU Observer            OAU Observer
African Unity          Mission         13      Mission          102

                                      100                      2513

* Including peace observers

The European Community, too, offered to send an observer mission to South Africa. In early September 1992, it despatched a 'troika' of foreign ministers to Pretoria to clear the proposals with the government. The first ECOMSA team members were deployed by the end of October.(20) In the case of the OAU, following the report of a fact-finding mission of experts in September, the OAU Ad Hoc Committee on Southern Africa authorized the OAU Secretary-General to appoint a special representative to coordinate the activities of a small team of observers, the first of whom arrived in early November.(21) All four observer teams continued to operate in the country until after the elections. Nevertheless, initially both the Commonwealth and OAU missions were appointed for only three months, and the UNOMSA and ECOMSA for six months. Moreover, there was a period in May 1993 when it appeared that COMSA might be disbanded - much to the dismay of many South Africans. In fact, for the next two months, it maintained only a holding operation until restored to full strength and vitality in August.

Although the immediate preoccupation of the four observer groups was the monitoring of violence (and the related process of negotiations), this was always perceived as preliminary to the ultimate purpose of promoting conditions conducive to free and fair elections. Certainly, the announcement in June 1993 of the election dates provided the signal for active planning to begin for substantial international participation in observing the April 1994 elections. No final decision, however, could be made until the South Africans clarified their own thinking on the subject, and issued a formal invitation. That required a prior decision on which political body was entitled to make the overture - the South African government which was still the legal authority in the country, or the multi-party Transitional Executive Council (TEC) which had the legitimacy the government lacked. It was the latter which the international community looked to as authoritative.

The absence of an invitation did not prevent an upsurge of interest and activity on the part of South African and foreign organizations. Among the first to lobby the UN on the issue of observers was President de Klerk, who met the Secretary-General on 23 September 1993. According to one informed report of the meeting, 'the South African government had been very wary about the role of the UN. Nonetheless, President de Klerk had indicated that he would welcome observers for the elections, even as many as 100 more observers, but only to observe not to monitor the elections.'(22) Most South African cabinet ministers would have preferred no international observers at all, certainly no more than were already in the country. De Klerk, on the other hand, was conscious of international expectations concerning the presence of foreign election observers, and of the political and economic costs of ignoring pressures for their admission. Nevertheless, he too was anxious to limit the number of observers and to control their activities.(23)

Within the UN and other international organizations with observer groups on the ground, contingency planning proceeded apace - though discreetly - pending official confirmation that an enlarged electoral observer presence would be welcome.(24) On 17 November, the plenary session of the Multi-party Negotiating Process approved in principle the involvement of the international community in the preparations for and conduct of the elections, and directed its Negotiating Council to work out the details. This it did, three weeks later. In a resolution - ratified by the TEC on 9 December 1993 - the four international organizations already present as well as individual foreign governments were asked 'to provide a sufficient number of international observers to oversee the electoral process'.(25)

Prior to this request, with the election deadline looming ever closer, even the South African government became concerned. On 1 December, Foreign Minister 'Pik' Botha wrote to the UN Secretary-General to 'suggest that immediate consideration be given to advance planning, in order to ensure that, when the IEC and the TEC become operational, further delays could be avoided'.(26) In his reply to his 'Dear Friend', Boutros Boutros-Ghali announced his intention to send a survey mission to South Africa within the next week 'to facilitate preparatory arrangements' for a UN elections observation team.(27) The report of this 'needs assessment team' provided the basis for the Secretary-General's proposals for an enlarged UNOMSA headed by his Special Representative.(28) The injunction, under its expanded mandate, to 'observe the election' appeared deceptively simple. In actual practice, it embraced a multitude of taxing responsibilities. Among these were the obligation to monitor the actions of the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), the Independent Media Commission (IMC) and the security services; to verify the adequacy of arrangements for voter education, issuing identification documents, and the secrecy and security of the ballots; and to observe the extent of freedom of movement, assembly and expression, and of freedom from intimidation.(29)

From the first, the four observer missions had recognized that observing elections was functionally different from monitoring violence. How they dealt with this issue administratively varied. The UN established two operating arms: a Peace Promotion Division to continue UNOMSA's work under its original mandate, and an Electoral Division modelled on UNTAG in Namibia to implement its new undertakings.(30) The Commonwealth and the European Union (EU), however, created separate but parallel structures. In the case of the Commonwealth, the Heads of Government meeting in Cyprus in October 1993 agreed that 'a sizeable international observer presence would be indispensable if confidence in the [electoral] process was to be assured'. They also saw 'a Commonwealth Election Observer Group as an important component of that wider international presence'.(31) In keeping with past practice, a Commonwealth Observer Group (COGSA) comprised of eminent persons widely representative of member states was deployed for a period of two weeks prior to and during the voting. Its terms of reference required the Group 'to consider the various factors impinging on the credibility of the electoral process as a whole and to determine in its own judgment whether the conditions exist for a free expression of will by the electors and if the result of the election reflects the wishes of the people'.(32)

The European Union (as it was now called) also opted for a separate electoral organization. This was the recommendation of a committee of three EU ambassadors resident in Pretoria who reported to Brussels in November 1993. The EU differed from the Commonwealth, however, in deciding to monitor the election campaign as a whole and not just the final weeks. On 25 January - a week before the official proclamation of the election - the European Union Elections Unit (EUNELSA) came into existence with the arrival of its first observers.(33)

Scale of operations

As far as the international community was concerned, there was strong support for monitoring the South African transition process. However, the scale and character of international, especially UN involvement were the subject of continuing controversy, echoing similar disputes with respect of Namibia and Zimbabwe in past years. Four factors conditioned decisions on the size of observer missions: need, costs, interest and personnel.

Assessing the objective needs of the situation in South Africa was not easy. Not only did they evolve over time, but needs were political as well as administrative. Initially, the incidence and intensity of the violence were the overriding considerations, especially as there was little public confidence in the competence and commitment of the police. Later, for purposes of election monitoring, the number and distribution of voting stations acquired great relevance. Also, during the run-up to the elections, it was important - as the TEC stressed in its appeal to the international community for 'a sufficient number' of observers - to ensure that there was 'free political campaigning in the whole of South Africa'.(34) The TEC's plea was a pointed reference to nominally-independent Bophuthatswana and, to some extent, Ciskei where electioneering and even voter education were effectively banned as well as to the 'no-go' areas of KwaZulu-Natal, the East Rand and elsewhere which systematically excluded certain rival parties.

Pressure to expand the corps of observers in the country came primarily from the ANC and the churches. Right from the first, UNOMSA was the principal focus of attention - despite being the first and consistently the largest observer group in the field. As the acknowledged lead agency, the UN was perhaps inevitably the subject of special concern and criticism. A more compelling explanation for singling it out for targeting was that it was judged more susceptible to political pressure than the other intergovernmental sponsoring bodies. Initially, the UN Secretary-General, in his August 1992 report to the Security Council on the Vance fact-finding mission, proposed that the UN make available 'some 30 observers' to serve in South Africa.(35) This prompted the ANC to submit a detailed response calling for an observer group with more extensive powers, greater autonomy, wider deployment geographically, larger numbers and a higher proportion of specialist members. The critique concluded that these immense, complex and critically vital tasks required 'a team of not less that 400 observers'.(36) As the Security Council failed to resolve the issue of size, resolution 772 omitted any mention of specific numbers. Instead, it authorized Boutros Boutros-Ghali 'to deploy as a matter of urgency, United Nations observers in South Africa, in such a manner and in such numbers as he determines necessary to address effectively the areas of concern noted in his report'. At the same time, Council members - led by Britain which at this time was basically opposed to any UN observers - insisted that they be consulted in advance of any decision.(37) Following discussions, the Secretary-General settled on an initial team of 50 observers. Commitments in Yugoslavia, Cambodia, and elsewhere reportedly ruled out any larger number.

The modest scale of the international presence in South Africa continued to engender dissatisfaction, domestically and internationally. Yet, when a UN Special Envoy visited South Africa in late 1992, he concluded that 'only a slight increase in the numbers' was required as 'generally speaking it's enough' already.(38) On the basis of his report, in December 1992 the UN Secretary-General proposed despatching an additional ten observers, though it was not until nearly two months later that the Security Council endorsed the miniscule increase. Moreover, by the end of 1993, the ten reinforcements had still not arrived; nor had the further 40 approved in September.(39) Noting that the combined strength of international observers was 'less than 100', the OAU Special Representative remarked that, 'in my view that is a token number'.(40)

In both cases, the delay in deployment was due to the failure of the UN General Assembly to approve UNOMSA's budget, not opposition from Pretoria. The South African government was now a convinced supporter of observers (though not monitors). In a meeting with the UN Special Representative on 23 December 1993, Foreign Minister Botha urged the UN to 'allocate resources to provide the largest possible number of observers needed to do the job'.(41) The unconscionable delay also provoked a Canadian minister into administering a well-deserved rebuke to the General Assembly. 'My government joins South Africans', she declared, 'in their dismay that the United Nations Observer Mission in South Africa (UNOMSA) has yet to receive the additional 40 violence monitors two full months after the Security Council approved the request from the Secretary-General. It is unacceptable that . . . [it] is taking so long to move from intention to action'. Then, referring to UNOMSA's electoral role under its expanded mandate, she warned members against 'tarnishing the credibility of the Organization with time-consuming battles about "principles" which in reality amount to squabbles over turf and over relatively small amounts of funding'.(42)

Money was, in fact, at the bottom of much of the controversy over numbers. Almost all the intergovernmental organizations were strapped for funds, some more than others. The European Union appeared to suffer the least financial embarrassment, and the OAU the most - to the point that it affected its operational effectiveness at times.(43) UNOMSA too was affected. In its early planning for election monitoring, it argued for a 'huge presence of observers', while South African organizations called for numbers of foreign observers ranging from 5,000 to 30,000. Initial thinking at UN headquarters, however, envisaged much more modest figures, perhaps 400 to 600, 'taking into account the financial constraints of the Organization'.(44)

UN strategy was constantly to seek ways of shifting costs to others. In calculating its human resource requirements, the UN began with as realistic as possible an assessment of the overall monitoring needs of the country. This came to 2,840 observers (in addition to an estimated 2,000 foreign NGO observers). From this total, the anticipated contributions of other intergovernmental groups (442) and governments (620) were subtracted, leaving the UN with the residue of 1,778. Even so, this was not an easy figure to justify to cost-conscious Security Council members. To ease acceptance, the Secretary-General undertook not to request any further increase in numbers unless it proved 'impossible' to get other sources to make up the shortfall.(45)

Observer missions were financed in a variety of ways. UNOMSA was funded out of the regular UN budget on the basis of the regular scale of contributions.(46) Thus, it differed from most UN peacekeeping operations, the costs of which are levied in accordance with a special scale heavily weighted to tax the wealthy and powerful. Other sponsoring organizations typically met only office expenses, subsistence allowances and sometimes travel costs, with salaries paid by the home governments. The Commonwealth solicited voluntary contributions from its members to a special fund to help meet the costs of COGSA. The UN, too, had a special Trust Fund intended to 'finance the participation of additional observers from African and developing countries', and thus avoid an anticipated 'overrepresentation of observers from Western, industrialized societies'.(47) However, the hoped-for voluntary contributions failed to materialize.


The recruitment policies and procedures of the different observer groups varied considerably. Members of the original UNOMSA contingent were drafted from UN offices around the world. With the approach of elections, greater emphasis was laid on requisite field experience and specialist skills. Then, during the final rapid build-up, there was a heavy reliance on nominees of member governments and UN Volunteers, amongst others? Inevitably, the quality was sometimes uneven. Initially, the Commonwealth and the European Union prided themselves on the expertise of their observers. Quality, they argued, compensated for their modest numbers and generally shorter-term assignments. Persons with relevant policing experience were especially well represented in both missions. This was a need that the ANC had identified as a priority as early as July 1992 in its submission to the Vance mission.(49) In the case of ECOMSA, 11 of its 15 members (and later 16 out of 18) were high-ranking police officers with decades of experience in their home countries. As for COMSA, its first team of 12 comprised five policemen, two army officers, two former ministers of justice, a professor of criminology, and two parliamentarians. Later teams were functionally more diverse with electoral and media experts included.(50)

The deployment patterns of the four inter-governmental observer groups were broadly similar. All concentrated their energies and resources on KwaZulu/Natal and Witwatersrand/Vaal, where at least 70 per cent of the violence occurred. All but COMSA, however, also had a limited presence elsewhere in the country. Although during the election phase centres of violence continued to receive the closest attention, the greatly increased numbers of observers made much wider representation throughout the country possible. To maximize coverage and impact, the four missions - and especially UNOMSA and COMSA - coordinated their deployment arrangements closely. Initially, coordination was on an informal basis. This proved effective, with team leaders meeting in weekly Monday morning briefing sessions. Of special interest was a small task force on policing, indicative of the importance which COMSA and ECOMSA in particular attached to this aspect of their mandates.

As plans for greatly expanded election operations progressed, the need for more formal arrangements for coordination became apparent. The TEC, in its invitation to international observers, did in fact specifically call upon the United Nations 'to coordinate all international observers . . . and, as a matter of urgency, to put in place the necessary arrangements to that effect, in particular ensuring that the international observers are deployed in an effective and coordinated manner in close cooperation with the Independent Electoral Commission'.(51) The UN Secretary-General followed up the TEC request by proposing three inter-agency bodies, each chaired by the UN: a Coordinating Committee, comprising the chiefs of the four major observer missions, to provide overall political leadership; a Technical Task Force, composed of the heads of the electoral divisions of the four missions, to deal with major resource issues; and a Joint Operations Unit (JOU) to plan the training and development of the influx of election observers prior to and during the elections.(52) The TEC also hoped for close cooperation between inter-governmental and non-governmental observers. Some liaison with foreign governmental delegations took place, but almost none, except on an ad hoc basis locally, with NGOs. Operationally, they acted almost entirely independently of the long-established intergovernmental missions.(53)


Over the months since 1992, the role and functions of international observers in South Africa evolved considerably. The critical turning-point came a few days before the elections with the decision of Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi on 19 April to enter the contest. Thereafter, the business of observing became qualitatively and quantitatively very different.(54)

Initially, the focus of concern was on bringing an effective end to political violence and intimidation as a prerequisite for progress towards a democratic South Africa and ultimately free and fair elections. Specifically, inter-governmental observers were charged with monitoring marches, mass meetings and any other public events of a political nature, including the conduct of the police and military forces relative to such activities; adherence by all concerned to the code of conduct for political parties and organizations; and actions relating to the implementation of the recommendations of the Goldstone Commission with respect to hostels, dangerous weapons, police investigations, special military forces, and taxi and train violence.

Under UNOMSA's expanded mandate (January 1994), 'a variety of activities that are essential for adequate electoral campaign coverage' were added, among them 'observation of IEC activities and of dispositions relating to the media; verification of the adequacy of voter education efforts; [and] verification that qualified voters are not denied the identification documents or temporary voter's cards that will enable them to vote'.(55) During the voting and counting, the task of observers was to report any irregularities, in particular infringements of the Electoral Code of Conduct.

Despite the apparent clarity of these mission statements, considerable scope for confusion and conflicting interpretation remained concerning the precise role expected of international observers. The minimalists saw their assignment as limited to observing election developments from the sidelines, noting any infractions of the electoral rules of the game, and ultimately pronouncing a verdict on the freeness and fairness of the process, once completed.(56) The maximalists, on the other hand, felt an obligation to do all they could to improve the quality of the process as it progressed. Although the term 'observer' was retained in deference to the sensibilities of the de Klerk government, many found its connotations too constraining. They envisaged themselves as political actors influencing the course of events in constructive ways rather than as passive spectators. Where along the continuum between these poles of behaviour individuals found themselves depended primarily on the philosophical outlook of their sponsoring bodies but also on personal predilections, time and circumstances. In the process, collectively they performed a range of functions which, although often closely related in practice, were analytically distinct. These are analysed here in the context of two broad preconditions for democratic elections: free political activity and a fair electoral system.

Free political participation

The most common claim made on behalf of observers is that, by their mere 'presence', they contribute to a climate conducive to free political participation. In terms of conventional wisdom, the presence of observers serves two purposes: solidarity with the people and deterrence of the trouble makers. They offer 'moral support and reassurance to South Africans who are committed to peaceful change through democratic means', and cause those (including the police) who might wish to resort to intimidation or commit other electoral offences to hesitate. As an UNOMSA brief predicted, 'the very presence of international observers . . . is expected to reduce the level of political violence and ensure that all potential voters are given adequate opportunity to cast their vote in relative peace and total secrecy'.(57) Whether the results justified such optimism is unclear. Certainly, on critical occasions like the Chris Hani and Oliver Tambo funerals, their role was decisive. Moreover, parties and communities continued to request observer 'protection'. Nevertheless, in general, once the novelty wore off, observers tended to be accepted as part of the scenery; individuals determined on violence were not deterred. Clearly, the dramatic decline in violence in the final week of the campaign had little to do with the huge influx of observers.

Potentially more important was the role of observers in reporting their findings on the ground to the responsible authorities. Opinions differed, however, as to who (besides the observers' own organization) was entitled to receive the information, and how secretive it was necessary to be to protect informants. The list of interested recipients included the IEC, the media, the South African government, the security forces, and local communities. Unlike NGO observers, the inter-governmental groups were under no obligation to report to the IEC. In practice, their reports from the field were passed on the IEC (and the National Peace Secretariat), normally in the course of regular exchange of views. There were also routine postmortems with the police and monthly meetings with the Police Commissioner. Moreover, almost from the beginning, the practice developed of the four observer missions issuing occasional joint press statements in response to particular events or concerns.(58) With certain notable exceptions, individual observers respected the injunction against giving personal press interviews.

Of the four observer mission, COMSA was the most publicity conscious (which invited some criticism on itself). None of the others attempted anything comparable to COMSA's three impressive (and not uncritical) reports.(59) Publication of COMSA's first report in February 1993 led the Department of Foreign Affairs to complain that it had not been offered an opportunity to comment on it in advance and to correct the alleged bias and lack of balance - accusations COMSA had no hesitation in dismissing.(60) UNOMSA, too, devoted a great deal of time and energy to preparing weekly and quarterly reports, but these were solely for the benefit of New York. These could more usefully have been made available to role players in South Africa.(61) The observer mission that was least comfortable with public statements was the OAU. Following the IFP march on the ANC headquarters in Johannesburg, it took hours of effort before the OAU was prepared to endorse a joint press release.(62)

The one group that rarely if ever received any feedback from observers were members of local communities which were the subject of observers' reports. This neglect was a cause of some bitterness, and reinforced the widespread perception of observers as persons who stood around, armed with notebooks in which they recorded the body count. What people wanted (and expected) was for the observes to do something about the situations they encountered, and not simply 'observe'. Hence, the early demands - notably by the ANC and the churches(63) - that observers be accorded investigative powers. This the TEC successfully resisted. Instead, IEC monitors received limited authority to search and seize, and a number of senior international police observers were assigned to the Goldstone commission's special investigation units ('the Goldstone cops').(64) When Maj-Gen. Bantu Holomisa invited the UN to investigate the allegation that terrorist training bases existed in his Transkei fiefdom, UNOMSA declined on the grounds that investigation was outside the mission's mandate.(65)

The whole question of the permissible limits on intervention in local disputes proved a source of continuing uncertainty without ever being satisfactorily resolved. Although the inter-governmental observer missions repudiated any suggestion that they were mere 'passive witnesses', how they interpreted their mandate varied. COMSA was credited with being generally more proactive than the others. Its reputation rested partly on its occasional forthright public pronouncements,(66) but mainly on the well-publicized mediation successes of Moses Anafu in the Port Shepstone area of Natal.(67)

UNOMSA typically took a more restrictive view of its role. The guidelines given UN observers specified that they 'should refrain from mediating but may assist regional/local [dispute resolution] officials, if called upon to do so'. In a further attempt to explain the position, observers were warned that 'the role of intervening and offering advice either on our own initiative or when requested to do so on the scene, might be fraught with difficulties and must therefore be approached carefully and after weighing all factors involved. It must be done judiciously and in a manner which preserves our impartiality'. At the same time, UNOMSA conceded that, 'to play a purely passive role would not be in line with the letter or spirit of Resolution 772 (1992) and would not live up to the expectations of the people of South Africa'.(68) In practice, some UN observers intervened with the police and government officials regularly and effectively on a range of issues. Differences in the behavioural responses of individuals to conditions on the ground were as great within observer groups as between them.

The bantustans posed perhaps the greatest challenge for the international observer missions and occasioned some of the strongest responses of any issue. Three of these pseudo-states in particular posed problems Bophuthatswana, Ciskei and KwaZulu. In each case, their leaders sought to restrict, if not completely suppress free political activity in their petty domains, and all commanded the physical means to do so. Initiatives by the IEC and others to prepare for the forthcoming elections, including the conduct of voter education, the issuing of ID cards, and the siting of voting stations, were effectively frustrated.

The international observers monitored developments in the bantustans closely, appealed for firm action to end the violence and intimidation, and issued a succession of press statements alerting the public at home and abroad to conditions prevailing especially in Bophuthatswana.(69) Several times, attempts to monitor conflict situations that posed a threat of violence - a banned religious procession and the forced removal of squatters, among others - were forcibly blocked by the Bophuthatswana authorities.(70) Repeated efforts to reason with the regime proved unproductive, as did appeals to Pretoria to intervene,(71) since it too perpetuated the myth of Bophuthatswana's independence. In the end, UNOMSA decided to operate in Bophuthatswana unannounced and uninvited, which it did until March 1994 when a popular uprising toppled its puppet president. In the case of Ciskei, while UNOMSA and ECOMSA observers had been permitted visits on a number of occasions, as long as Brigadier Gqozo was in power they did not enjoy the unconditional freedom of access they insisted on. Relations with KwaZulu were also difficult as the observer missions had caused offence to Chief Buthelezi by, among other things, repeatedly calling on Pretoria to honour its promise to ban the carrying of weapons, including (Zulu) cultural weapons, in public.(72)

Fair elections

Under their extended mandates, the inter-governmental observer groups were required to assess not only whether the election game was being played freely and fairly, but also whether the rules of the game were conducive to the holding of free and fair elections. This involved more than checking whether the political playing field was level, crucial as that was. It was also necessary to monitor those individuals and institutions charged with drawing up the rules and refereeing the game. Although the TEC was outside their purview, 'the actions of the Independent Electoral Commission and its organs in all aspects and stages of the electoral process' were of central concern. So too were the IMC and the security forces.(73) A striking feature of the formidable list of observer responsibilities was the extent to which observer groups were called upon to monitor the monitors, notably the IEC's Election Monitoring Directorate, the IMC and the police.

The IEC had been saddled with a formidable assignment and an impossible timetable. While the election dates were immutable, almost everything else seemed subject to change without notice. Moreover, the commissioners came to appreciate only slowly how desperate their situation really was - in part because they had been sadly misled by unverified information fed to them by some of their own officials. In the circumstances, the observer groups felt obliged to confront IEC members with the harsh realities based on the informed opinions of their own experts and factual reports from observers in the field. As UN Special Representative Brahimi explained: 'We have got to look at what [the IEC] are doing in a critical manner and comment. . . . We have told them very bluntly where our questions, doubts and fears were'. He added that the IEC were 'very appreciative of this' and welcomed the views of the observers 'enthusiastically'.(74)

The major initiative in this respect was a joint demarche in early March 1994, when the four missions presented a devastating indictment of many of the existing or proposed electoral arrangements. Among the 'major concerns' highlighted were: (1) the 'highly unusual voting station layout' which had 'few if any precedents'; (2) the single voter stream, characterized as 'one of the worst arrangements possible'; and (3) a standard of service to voters which appeared 'manifestly better in the low-density [white] areas in which people have voted before than in the high-density [black] townships where voters would be novices'. The critique concluded that the 'critical failing' was 'the absence of an extensive field structure', and warned that it was 'becoming increasingly implausible that the IEC will be able to deploy the number of polling staff required to run the election within the proposed time-frame'.(75) Shortly afterwards, the IEC reorganised its operational procedures, with members assuming direct responsibility for the work of officials.(76) Despite these administrative changes, problems remained and multiplied, leading COGSA to send the IEC chairman an eve-of-poll letter with a further list of urgent areas of concern.(77)

A novel aspect of the attempt to 'level the playing field' was the extraordinary effort devoted to monitoring the media and especially the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC). The focus on the SABC by official bodies, civil society and the international community reflected a number of historical realities: (1) the deep distrust of the SABC which conceived of its role as faithfully projecting government policy; (2) experience in Namibia where the greatest failure of UNTAG was its inability to correct the blatant bias of the South West Africa Broadcasting Corporation (SWABC); and (3) the existence of extensive 'no-go' areas that could only be effectively penetrated by the electronic media. The observer missions, amongst others, were actively involved in monitoring the SABC as well as the Independent Media Commission (IMC) which served as the official watchdog.(78) They also analysed the print media (which the IMC was barred from investigating). Their broad consensus was generally positive, no doubt in no small measure due to the spotlight the international and, even more, the domestic monitors focused on the media. As UNOMSA concluded, 'media coverage of the electoral process was balanced and did not disadvantage any one political party'.(79)

A second area of specialist concentration, also of great political sensitivity concerned the role of the security forces, especially the police. For the great majority of the population, they remained instruments of apartheid oppression. Certainly, their political impartially has highly suspect. So concerned was UNOMSA at the prospect of a breakdown of security that it asked that the Security Council require it to 'monitor the compliance of the security forces' with the provisions of the relevant laws and TEC decisions.(80) All the observer missions included members with substantial police experience. EUNELSA alone recruited some 80, many of whom were posted to police stations. In the end, neither the worse-case security scenarios nor the feared indiscipline in the security forces materialized. SADF, in particular, came to terms with the new South Africa. As COGSA commented, the security services were 'generally perceived to have behaved impartially and responsibly. They undoubtedly made a creditable and positive contribution'.(81)

The final task of the election observers was to assess the freeness and fairness of the elections. For the pre-election period, they relied heavily on the observations and insights of fine early arrivals. The main monitoring effort, however, was concentrated on the few days of actual voting. Yet, at their peak, the combined strength of inter-governmental observers was only 30 per cent of the number of voting stations. Accordingly, it was necessary to devise a strategy for the efficient deployment of observers. This involved establishing criteria for selecting voting stations to be monitored, ensuring close coordination of the teams, and adopting valid sampling procedures. In this way, the 2527 intergovernmental observers 'covered' 7430 of the 8478 voting stations (or 88 per cent) and, on the basis of this, announced that the people of South Africa had indeed been 'able to participate freely in the voting'.(82)

Monitoring of the counting process was less satisfactory, and the counting itself more chaotic. As the UN report explains: 'The extent to which UNOMSA was able to monitor the actual conduct of the count was limited by the need, for budgetary reasons, to withdraw most international electoral observers before the end of the count'. (The great majority of other observers also disappeared early.) Since it was 'impossible for UNOMSA to cover the counting process fully', it was decided that 'counting at a sample number of stations should be observed'. As a result partial reports were received on 458 of the 841 counting stations (or 54 per cent). Moreover, in the most serious cases of alleged fraud, it was 'not possible for UNOMSA to make an independent judgment'. Nevertheless, the collective view of the intergovernmental observers was that 'the outcome of the elections reflects the will of the people of South Africa'. Significantly, they deliberately deleted the words 'free and fair' from the draft joint statement.(83)


To have conducted South Africa's first democratic elections in conditions of uncommon peace and to have produced a credible outcome acceptable to all the principal players was by any standard a remarkable achievement. International observers are entitled to share in the reflected glory of South Africa's success, but their share of the credit is less than many expected it to be. The elections that took place were not the elections anticipated, and the role for which most election observers had been prepared was not always quite what the new circumstances demanded. The major contribution of the international observers was, in fact, as peace monitors during the preceding year and a half. In assessing their role, several criteria merit exploration, among them the following.


By early 1994 with the approach of the elections, international observers had been accepted by almost all the political actors as part of the election landscape. This had not always been the case. In mid-1992 when the presence of observers was first mooted, the National Party government and the white community generally were deeply suspicious of the idea, if not outright hostile. Reassuring Pretoria was a slow and uncertain process, though ultimately successful. The ANC too, while initially welcoming the observers, were disappointed when their operational limitations became apparent. It had hoped that the observers would provide the teeth that the National Peace Accord so obviously lacked. Fortunately, by 1994, both the National Party and the ANC had come to appreciate that each had a great deal at stake in ensuring that the elections were perceived as free and fair, and that the assistance of international observers was essential.


The principal advantage international observers can claim for themselves, in comparison with their more knowledgeable domestic counterparts, is their assumed independence. Yet, despite protestations of impartiality on the part of the Commonwealth, the United Nations and the OAU, their commendable records of commitment to the liberation struggle offered ready ammunition to critics.(84) As a result, the observer groups were kept under close government scrutiny to detect any false step on their part. Thus, when the ANC held an international solidarity conference in February 1993, the government objected to any high-level foreign representation. Particularly irritating to Pretoria was the special status and funding accorded the ANC and the PAC. However, when the UNOMSA chief of mission suggested that it might be 'logical' to withdraw these privileges in due course in the interests of levelling the playing field, the PAC (which was sensitive to the charge of terrorism) was outraged.(85) Observers also learned to be discreet in their dealings with the security services, as they were noted for their generosity with gifts, trips and invitations to brais.


In the year and a half prior to the elections, the international peace monitors acquired vast experience and expertise which they put to good use. Election observers, too, had an important part to play, principally in helping the creaky election machinery to work - barely.(86) By assisting voters inside and outside the voting stations, coming to the rescue with mobile telephones, and supporting harassed IEC officials in other practical respects, they performed useful services - frequently in ways that exceeded their mandates. At the same time, there were two aspects, in particular, where improvements were desirable - coordination and training.


According to the UN Secretary-General, the level of coordination achieved by the four inter-governmental missions in South Africa was 'probably the closest form of cooperation achieved by our organisations so far'. Nevertheless, he admits that there was 'still ample room for improvement'.(87) One shortcoming concerned cooperation with the NGO observers, especially the South Africans. Admittedly, much of the problem stemmed from the failure of NEON - the National Electoral Observer Network - to get its act together. The fact remains, however, that there was not the relatively close and mutually beneficial working partnership between domestic and international observers that existed, for example, during the Zambian elections of October 1991.(88)

Observer skills

The standard of training the observers received, especially prior to arrival, varied greatly in quality. All too many could not even fill out the report forms correctly. Moreover, there was virtually no instruction in counting procedures, perhaps because few observers were able or willing to stay around for it.


While the main emphasis in monitoring was on routine aspects of the elections, the international observer groups had identified in advance three problem areas of special concern. These were: security force violence, media bias, and the 'Angola option' - refusal by the losers to accept the process as free, fair and final. In each of these priority areas, observers hoped to make a constructive contribution to ensuring a smooth transition to democratic rule. In the event, none of these issues proved as serious as had been feared, partly no doubt because of the presence of observers. Both the media moguls and the military brass decided that self-interest dictated the need to adapt to changes and work within the new dispensation. Above all, the parties acquiesced in the published results, despite serious misgivings in some quarters. Their decisions had little or nothing to do with the carefully crafted verdict of the international observers on the validity of the elections, and probably little to do with the IEC's certification of them as 'substantially free and fair'. The situation would have been dramatically different if the outcome had been contested. Fortunately, the country was spared that ordeal.(89)

1. See my South Africa: The transition to democracy (Johannesburg: South African Council of Churches, 1994), pp. 24-28.

2. Colleen Lowe Morna, 'Patrolling the Poll', Africa Report, 39 (4), July-August 1994, pp. 29-33.

3. Address at Elections Canada, Ottawa, 21 September 1994.

4. Ottawa, 21 September 1994; SABC-TV, 6 May 1994.

5. Sections 1 and 24, Independent Electoral Commission Act. The IEC 'hired and deployed 21,149 monitors and accredited 21,815 domestic and international observers'. See The South African Elections of April 1994: Report of the Independent Electoral Commission, Johannesburg, 1994, p. 43.

6. 'An Agenda for Peace', UN doc. S/24111, 17 June 1992, pp. 8-9.

7. South African Council of Churches, 'Memorandum: Meeting of the SACC Church Leaders Delegation with the State President and his Delegation' [31 March-1 April 1992], 22 May 1992.

8. Nelson Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom: The autobiography of Nelson Mandela (Little Brown, Boston, 1994), pp. 525-6.

9. Race Relations Survey, 1992/93 (South African Institute of Race Relations, Johannesburg, 1993), pp. 462, 463.

10. OAU doc. CM/Res. 1386 (LVI), Dakar, 22-28 June 1992, reproduced in UN doc. S/24232 annex, 2 July 1992. The Council of Ministers also decided to send 'an OAU fact-finding mission of experts to South Africa to investigate the violence' (10 September to 3 October 1992).

11. UN doc. S/PV. 3095, 15 July 1992, p. 31 (provisional). At an earlier press conference, Mandela indicated'. that he would welcome a full-scale UN peacekeeping operation but recognized that the idea was unrealistic because it would be rejected by Pretoria. See The Times (London), 16 July 1992, p. 11.

12. UN doc. S/PV. 3096, 16 July 1992, p. 18 (provisional). As a sop to the international community, Botha hinted that its role 'in an observer or other capacity could be considered'. 13. UN doc. S/RES/765, 16 July 1992. On 7 July, the Secretary-General sounded out Botha on the possibility of a 'goodwill visit' to South Africa by Vance. In his response next day, Botha 'welcomed' the idea, but hoped that it would come before, not after the planned Security Council meeting (UN doc. S/24255 annex, 8 July 1992).

14. Africa Research Bulletin: Political, Social and Cultural, 1992, p. 10666; UN doc. S/24389, 7 August 1992, pp. 14-15. The observer mission visited South Africa, 2-13 August 1992, immediately following the Vance mission, 21-31 July 1992.

15. Star (Johannesburg), 7 August 1992, p. 11 and 11 August 1992, p. 11; Saturday Star (Johannesburg), 8 August 1992, p. 8. The UN observers intervened creatively at Daveyton (3 August) and Krugersdorp (4 August).

16. Business Day (Johannesburg), 9 March 1993, p. 8; SouthScan (London) 7 (23), 12 June 1992, p. 170.

17. UN doc. S/24389, 7 August 1992, p. 17.

18. UN docs. S/24389, 7 August 1992, p. 17, and S/RES/772, 17 August 1992. Britain pressed unsuccessfully to have the four observer groups placed under the National Peace Committee. The ANC opposed any links with the NPC.

19. Commonwealth Secretariat, Report of the Commonwealth Secretary-General, 1993, p. 34; Austin Amissah, 'Commonwealth Observer Mission to South Africa (COMSA)', 17 December 1992.

20. European Political Cooperation, 'Statement on South Africa', Press Release 101/92, Brussels, 27 October 1992; UN doc. S/25004, 22 December 1992, p. 3.

21. OAU Ad Hoc Committee on South Africa, Communique (IX), Gaborone, 15 October 1992. Ambassador Legwaila J. Legwaila of Botswana was named OAU Special Representative. He had been UN Deputy Special Representative in Namibia, 1989-90.

22. Meeting between James Jonah (UN Under-Secretary-General, Political and Security Affairs) and Ambassador Hicks (US Mission to the UN), 10 November 1993. In general no attempt is made here to differentiate between 'monitors' and 'observers', despite the functional distinction in the minds of the de Klerk government and the ANC (both of which saw the former as more interventionist than the latter), or the legal distinction in the IEC Act.

23. On 1 December, Foreign Minister Botha reported to the UN Secretary-General that there was 'general consensus' in South Africa that the UN and other peace observers had 'done an effective job of work and made a major contribution to the efforts of the National Peace Secretariat and other Peace Accord structures to reduce violence'. He added that 'the South African government therefore shares the view that this work should continue . . . during the run-up to the elections'.

24. UNOMSA planning for the election began early in 1993. On 9 November 1993, it submitted a 23-page brief on 'Elections in South Africa' to the Secretary-General.

25. Meeting of the Transitional Executive Council, 9 December 1993 [p. 4]. 'The Report of the Negotiating Council to Plenary of the Multi-Party Negotiating Process held on Wednesday, 17 November 1993 at the World Trade Centre' acknowledges that 'the international community had a vital and indispensable role in the transition process in South Africa and looks forward to their involvement in the process leading up to the elections'. (Document Pack for the Meeting of the Plenary of the Multi-Party Negotiating Process, 17 November 1993, Addendum C, sec. 6).

26. Letter: R. F. Botha to Boutros-Boutros-Ghali, 1 December 1993.

27. Letter: Boutros-Boutros-Ghali to R. F. Botha, 3 December 1993. Earlier, Hisham Omayad, Director of the UN Department of Political Affairs, circulated a memorandum on the 'Role of the United Nations in the Elections in South Africa', 2 November 1993. Three weeks later, following South African agreement on an interim constitution and the electoral process, the Security Council President on behalf of his colleagues invited the Secretary-General 'to accelerate contingency planning for a possible UN role in the election process'. (UN doc. S/26785, 23 November 1993). The survey mission, led by the head of the UN Election Assistance Unit, visited South Africa, 11-21 December 1993.

28. UN doc. S/26883, 13 December 1993. The appointment of Lakhdar Brahimi as Special Representative for South Africa was controversial. As foreign minister of Algeria in December 1991, he shared responsibility for cancelling the second round of parliamentary elections to prevent an Islamicist victory (Weekly Mail and Guardian 9 (49), 17-24 December 1993, p. 2). However, as the UN's chief election watchdog in South Africa, Brahimi was generally regarded as effective.

29. UN doc. S/1994/16, 10 January 1994, p. 15 and S/RES/1994/894, 14 January 1994.

30. UN docs. S/1994/16, 10 January 1994, esp. pp. 15-16, 21. The Electoral Division was top heavy with area, regional, provincial and district directors. Unlike in Namibia, the UN was merely monitoring the elections, not supervizing them.

31. Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, Cyprus, 21-25 October 1993, Communique, para. 22.

32. Commonwealth Secretariat, The End of Apartheid: The Report of the Commonwealth Observer Group to the South Africa Elections, 26-29 April 1994, p. 2. COGSA members were in South Africa, 9 April-4 May 1994.

33. Business Day, 26 January 1994, p. 2.

34. Meeting of the Transitional Executive Council, 9 December 1993 [p. 4].

35. UN doc. S/24839, 7 August 1992, p. 17.

36. ANC, 'Some Comments on the Report of the UN Secretary-General on the Question of South Africa', 11 August 1992, p. 10. ANC views were expanded upon in its 'Recommendations of the African National Congress to the Secretary-General of the United Nations regarding the Operational Aspects of a UN Monitoring Group (UNMG) in South Africa', 24 August 1992. In an earlier working paper handed to Vance, the ANC had 'stressed the need for an adequate and not merely a symbolic number' of UN observers, with 'a size of some 400 to 450 persons' suggested. (UN doc. S/24389, 7 August 1992, pp. 7-8).

37. UN docs. S/RES/772 and S/24456, 17 August 1992.

38. Star, 10 December 1992, p. 23. Norwegian Ambassador Tom Vraalsen reportedly recommended 13 additional observers, including some military observers, following his visit (22 November-9 December 1992).

39. UN docs. S/25004, 22 December 1992, p. 17, S/25315, 19 February 1993, S/26558, 29 September 1993.

40. Weekly Mail and Guardian 9 (48), 17-24 December 1993, p. 2.

41. UN doc. S/1994/16, 10 January 1994, p. 6. Botha's letter of 1 December 1993 to the UN Secretary-General had called for a 'marked increase' in the number of observers.

42. Christine Stewart, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, UN doc. A/48/PV.76 (provisional), 23 December 1993, p. 17. The General Assembly and the Security Council were in conflict over control of UNOMSA.

43. OAU observers not infrequently were dependent on other observers for transport. The OAU asked each of its members to provide 'at least two observers' for the elections (Africa Research Bulletin, 1994, p. 11318). In the event, it fielded 102, almost as many as COGSA.

44. UNOMSA, 'Elections in South Africa', 9 November 1993, p. 22; UN doc. S/1994/16, 10 January 1994, p. 22; Omayad, 'Role of the United Nations', 2 November 1993.

45. UN doc. S/1994/16, 10 January 1994, pp. 23-24.

46. UN docs. A/C. 5/48/28, 18 November 1993, A/C. 5/48/67, 31 January 1994. South Africa was not asked to share the cost of UNOMSA with the UN, though it was financially able to do so.

47. Commonwealth Heads of Government Meetings, Cyprus, 21-25 October 1993, Communique, para. 22; UN doc. S/1994/16, 10 January 1994, p. 20.

48. UN employees were expensive as they retained their base salaries (even when replaced) on top of their remuneration as observers. They were also disparagingly (and unfairly) dubbed 'pen-pushers'. Weekly Mail 8 (40), 2-8 October 1992, p. 8.

49. UN doc. S/24389, 7 August 1992, p. 8. In subsequent submissions, the ANC called for 'experts in policing, including crowd control, criminal investigation and forensic work' as well as personnel with military and conflict resolution experience. ('Recommendations of the African National Congress', 24 August 1992, p. 5; 'Some Comments on the Report', 11 August 1992, p. 8); Mayibuye (Johannesburg), 4 (1993), p. 23.

50. Star, 7 April 1993, p. 17; Sunday Times (Johannesburg), 6 February 1994, p. 5; Commonwealth Secretariat, Violence in South Africa, 'Phase I: October 1992-January 1993', p. 53; 'Phase II: February-May 1993', p. 107; South Africa Transition, 'Phase III: August-December 1993', p. 83; UNOMSA, 'Elections in South Africa', 9 November 1993, p. 20.

51. Meeting of the Transitional Executive Council, 9 December 1993 [p. 4].

52. UN docs. S/1994/16, 10 January 1994, pp. 18-19, S/1994/177, 16 June 1994, pp. 31-33.

53. UN docs. S/1994/16, 10 January 1994, pp. 19-20, S/1994/177, 16 June 1994, pp. 33-34.

54. UN doc. S/1994/16, 10 January 1994, p. 17.

55. UNOMSA, 'First Quarterly Report', December 1992, p. 7; UN doc. S/1994/16, 10 January 1994, p. 16.

56. This is the classic Commonwealth position, respected more in the breach. As COGSA's terms of reference specified: 'The group . . . has no executive role; its function is to observe the process as a whole and to form a judgment accordingly'. (Commonwealth Secretariat, End of Apartheid, p. 3).

57. UN doc. S/1994/717, 16 June 1994, p. 3; UNOMSA, 'Elections in South Africa', 9 November 1993, p. 15. Observers regularly negotiated routes with organizers of marches and the police. See note 89.

58. There were at least 10 of these joint statements culminating in the interim and final statements on the elections (30 April and 6 May 1994).

59. See note 50. Events in 1994 were dealt with in COGSA's report on The End of Apartheid.

60. Vraalsen informed Foreign Minister Botha verbally of the major recommendations in his report. Botha sought to correct the record (as he saw it) both then and later (UN doc. S/25110, 15 January 1993).

61. One UNOMSA observer has noted that: 'New York in my experience never came back to the Mission on matters raised in its reports'. He added: 'There was never any guidance from New York' since 'in New York, there is no research department that analyses conflict situations. I do not recall any suggestion emanating from New York'. (Personal communication, 7 April 1995).

62. 'Joint statement by international observer missions in South Africa', 29 March 1994. On the other hand, when an attempt was made to link OAU support for the Pan-Africanist Congress to APLA's 'terrorist attacks' on defenceless civilians, the OAU Special Representative declared that 'the OAU unconditionally and categorically condemns all violence against civilians be they black or white' (OAU Press Statement, 7 December 1992).

63. ANC, 'Some Comments on the Report', 11 August 1992, sec. 5.3; 'Presentation on the State of the Nation to the United States Special Envoy, Mr Cyrus Vance, by a Delegation of Church Leaders', 24 July 1992, p. 3.

64. Sunday Times, 23 January 1994, p. 33.

65. Business Day, 15 December 1992, p. 1. One UNOMSA observer took it upon himself to act as adviser to Holomisa on how to handle his conflict with Pretoria over the alleged APLA bases in Transkei. He also advised Holomisa not to turn any documents over to the Goldstone Commission which the UNOMSA chief of mission considered the proper body to investigate the matter.

66. In addition to COMSA's reports (note 50 above), see the SADF's sharp riposte to one press statement ('Reaction to Comments by the Chairman of the Commonwealth Monitoring Team about the National Peacekeeping Force', 3 March 1994). Angela King, UNOMSA chief of mission, was also outspoken at times; see, for example, Business Day, 4 November 1993, p. 2.

67. New Nation (Johannesburg), 4-10 December 1992, p. 6, and 2-8 April 1993, p. 5; Star, 19 February 1993, p. 11; Weekly Mail 9 (13), 2-7 April 1993, p. 10.

68. UNOMSA, 'Guidelines on the Implementation of Resolution 772 (1992)', [1992], pp. 2, 4; italics in original. This document was drafted internally in the absence of any guidelines beyond generalities from New York (note 61).

69. UNOMSA Press Release, 16 March 1993 and 10 March 1994 (on behalf of all four missions).

70. UNOMSA Press Release, 5 March 1993; Sunday Times, 28 February 1993, p. 26, and 28 March 1993, p. 2.

71. Letter from heads of four observer missions to Foreign Minister Botha, 27 January 1993.

72. 'Joint Statement by International Observer Missions in South Africa', 29 March 1994.

73. UN doc. S/1994/16, 10 January 1994, p. 15.

74. UNOMSA Press Release, 26 March 1994.

75. 'Status of Election Preparations' [March 1994]; UN doc. S/1994/717, 16 June 1994, pp. 16-17.

76. The IEC's Election Administration Directorate, headed by the former Director-General of Home Affairs, constituted a major part of the problem. It was secretive, uncooperative, often incompetent and surprisingly poorly-informed.

77. Commonwealth Secretariat, End of Apartheid, pp. 25, 112. Another letter on 30 April urged the IEC to include in the count the ballots cast at seven East Rand voting stations which, having opened very late, had reopened a day after the polls had officially closed (pp. 122-3).

78. UN doc. S/1994/16, 10 January 1994, p. 15; Independent Media Commission, Report to the Transitional Executive Council (TEC), April 1994.

79. UN doc. S/1994/717, 16 June 1994, p. 27. See also, Commonwealth Secretariat, End of Apartheid, pp. 26-31.

80. UN doc. S/1994/16, 10 January 1994, p. 15.

81. Commonwealth Secretariat, End of Apartheid, pp. 51-52. While the professionalism of the police observers was invaluable, many of them were politically naive, overly-understanding of police difficulties, and unduly sensitive to the potentiality for violence in situations such as Bophuthatswana. Fearing election violence, EU and Commonwealth police persuaded the UN to close the East Rand Joint Operations Centre. Fortunately, lay COGSA observers remained (see note 2 above).

82. UN doc. S/1994/717, 16 June 1994, pp. 22, 24. There is no consistency in the total number of voting stations - some had 2 streams - or observers cited in different reports.

83. UN doc. S/1994/717, 16 June 1994, pp.25, 30. Italics added.

84. OAU observers, in general, found it more difficult to shed their ANC sympathies.

85. Star, 4 November 1993, p. 13.

86. The IEC singled out COMSA for 'special and grateful mention' for its 'invaluable contribution' to staff training. 'In several instances their representatives were the provincial training unit'. South African Elections of April 1994, p. 41.

87. UN doc. S/1994/717, 16 June 1994, p. 38.

88. Eric Bjornlund, Michael Bratton and Clark Gibson, 'Observing Multiparty Elections in Africa: Lessons from Zambia', African Affairs 91, 364 (1992), pp. 427-30.

89. Chris Landsberg acknowledges somewhat grudgingly that 'the presence of foreign observers did play some role in reducing the scale of conflict', though they 'tended to be most effective at political events such as rallies and demonstrations: they had little capacity to prevent other forms of political conflict'. 'Directing from the stalls?' South African Review 7 (Ravan, Johannesburg, 1994), p. 287.

Douglas G Anglin is Professor Emeritus of Political Science, Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada. He served with the Education for Democracy Programme of the South African Council of Churches in Johannesburg, 1992-94, and as an observer with the Commonwealth Observer Group (COGSA), April-May 1994. The views expressed are solely those of the author.
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Author:Anglin, Douglas G.
Publication:African Affairs
Date:Oct 1, 1995
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