More than once we have discussed the possibility and feasibility of an occasional special, thematic edition of this journal. Usually our conclusion was that it was a good idea, but that a few provisos were inevitably attached to it. Firstly, in each case the theme would have to be a very relevant one, and would have to be acknowledged by the readers as relevant indeed. Secondly, the planning of and preparations for such a special edition would have to begin well ahead of the envisaged publication date. Thirdly, such special editions should be relatively few and far between, since most of our readers might perhaps prefer the variety of topics in our regular editions.
Our work with regard to the journal therefore tended to proceed along two lines. On the one hand, we were welcoming incoming articles with their typical diversity of topics and approaches. On the other hand, we kept harbouring the idea of a first special edition, and wondering when a preparatory start should be made.
Then something just happened suddenly. With the generous support of the Regional Centre for Southern Africa (RCSA) Office of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) ACCORD had run a Programme on Electoral Systems, Elections and Conflict Mitigation in Southern Africa. The objectives of this programme included the following:
- Strengthening early warning mechanisms in the area of elections
- Increasing capacity of Regional Organisations to mitigate elections-related conflicts
- Reflecting on and appraising the democratic and multi-party elections process which emerged in Southern Africa almost a decade ago
- Reflecting on the challenges faced by countries in the region to deal with issues of multi-party elections
- Exploring the reasons why in most Southern African states elections almost always lead to conflict
- Reflecting on the nature of conflicts experienced and the extent to which the countries in the region have found means and ways of dealing with them
- Sharing lessons from different Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries, especially with regard to dealing with conflicts that are related to elections
- Providing technical assistance and training to USAID bi-lateral missions.
The idea was to conclude this programme with a publication, and preferably with a special edition of the journal. Thorough research work had formed an important part of the project and articles produced by a panel of academics were ready for publication.
In this way, the first two conditions mentioned above had indeed been fulfilled by this programme. All the planning and organising had been done by the programme team and those involved in implementing the plans. Even guest editors were enlisted! All that we as editors of the journal had to do, was to add a few finishing touches. We therefore wish to express our great and sincere thanks to all the participants and contributors: USAID as funder of the programme, Dr Khabele Matlosa as external guest editor, the authors of all the articles, Ms Titi Pitso as Regional Programme Manager, all the members of ACCORD’s team, and contributors from the various countries. We genuinely appreciate your commitment, the time and energy you have devoted to the project, and the experience and expertise you have shared with all who will benefit from the work you have been doing.
So, here is our first special edition – on Electoral Systems, Elections and Conflict Mitigation in Southern Africa. What we find particularly satisfying from our editorial perspective, is that the theme of this first special edition is such a people-related theme. Everything about elections has to do with huge numbers of real people. Any change in an electoral system can make the voice of the people either more audible or less audible, either more influential or less influential. With regard to constitutions, which are also referred to more than once, something similar may be added: Any amendment to a constitution can either improve or worsen the situation of the people with regard to human rights and democratic rights. The descriptions, discussions and recommendations found in this edition are therefore no academic abstractions; they deal with political realities which affect the lives of millions and billions of people.
Precisely this tremendously wide- and far-reaching significance of our special theme, however, places a great responsibility on all of us who will read and use this material. We have to remember that these articles, in an academic journal, will not reach the masses of people who live as citizens in their countries, and exercise their right to vote. This means that we are reading on behalf of them, and that we are making use of this material on behalf of them. We therefore have to explore ways in which the recommendations about duly people-oriented constitutions and electoral systems can be communicated to the political leaders and opinion formers. We have to develop the commitment, courage and perseverance to do, and keep doing, the bits we may be able to do. Some of our opportunities may seem to be more significant, while others may appear to be rather insignificant. Still, there is always the possibility of a seed thought growing into a deed that brings about real transformation. Moreover, we should remember that we find ourselves at the beginning of the stimulating era of the African Renaissance.
Is this not an appropriate time to be frankly realistic about the short-comings of electoral systems and procedures in various countries? In fact, there may be no single country that can boast about a perfect system or flawless elections. The six articles dealing with electoral systems and elections in six countries – Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique, South Africa, Tanzania and Zimbabwe – should serve a useful purpose in this regard. Positive aspects are duly appraised, but where necessary, criticism and recommendations are added. In the leading article, election results and details of these and other Southern African Development Community countries are also discussed. We do trust, therefore, that this special package of articles will communicate and spread the message of free, fair and democratic elections, and inspire leaders and followers to introduce all possible improvements.