30 Years of Democracy in South Africa Resilience, Reflections, and Innovations

February 12, 2024

2024 marks the 30th anniversary of South Africa’s first democratic elections. The anti-apartheid movement and the post-1994 progress in South Africa have been key sources of inspiration for a global community of democracy advocates that continue fighting for more free, just, and inclusive societies.

South Africa’s democratic progress is a reason for us to celebrate. Yet, its dividends have not been fully delivered. Building democracy is a long journey. Against evolving challenges, democracy continues to innovate. Today, people in South Africa are actively bolstering civic engagement because a democratic future cannot be taken for granted.

The World Movement for Democracy and the Nelson Mandela Foundation are delighted to host a discussion to celebrate civic innovations to strengthen South Africa’s democracy while reflecting on current challenges and opportunities to re-energize democracy in the country. Featured speakers will include global and South African democracy champions.


Maria Ressa, co-founder and CEO of Rappler and 2021 Nobel Peace Prize winner, became chairperson of the World Movement for Democracy Steering Committee in 2022. Rappler is the top digital news site leading the fight for press freedom in the Philippines. Her courage and work on disinformation and ‘fake news’ culminated in being awarded the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of her “efforts to safeguard freedom of expression, which is a precondition for democracy and lasting peace.” Her numerous awards include being named Time’s 2018 Person of the Year and listed among its 100 Most Influential People of 2019.

Dr. Mamphela Ramphele is a renowned activist, medical doctor, academic, businesswoman, and political thinker. She was a founder of the Black Consciousness Movement with Steve Biko in the late 1960s and 1970s. She is a former vice-chancellor at the University of Cape Town and a former managing director at the World Bank. She is a co-founder of ReimagineSA and the Chair of the Tutu IP Trust. From 2018 to 2023, she was co-president of the Club of Rome. She is the author of several books and publications on South Africa, including A Passion for Freedom, Laying Ghosts to Rest, Conversations with My Sons and Daughters, and Dreams, Betrayal and Hope.

Rekgotsofetse Chikane is currently a lecturer at the University of Witwatersrand, where he previously completed his PhD in Development Economics, Complexity, and Decoloniality. He is a graduate of the University of Oxford, having completed his master’s degree in public policy in 2017, a Mandela-Rhodes Scholar (2015), one of the Mail & Guardian’s Top 200 Young South Africans (2016), and the former national president of InkuluFreeheld, non-partisan, youth organization focused on deepening democracy and enhancing social cohesion. He is an advocate for socio-economic equality and the practical realization of decoloniality within a post-1994 South Africa.

Verne Harris is the Acting Chief Executive at the Nelson Mandela Foundation, where he previously served as Director of Archive and Dialogue. From 2004 to 2013 he was Nelson Mandela’s archivist. He is an adjunct professor at the Nelson Mandela University and an honorary research fellow at the University of Cape Town. He worked for South Africa‘s Truth and Reconciliation Commission and was the Director of the South African History Archive. He is the recipient of an honorary doctorate from the University of Cordoba in Argentina, and archival publication awards from Australia, Canada, and South Africa, both his novels were short-listed for South Africa’s M-Net Book Prize.