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Observers of History: Howard University Delegation Monitors South Africa’s 1994 Democratic Elections


Washington, DC -- The first half of the 1990’s brought the culmination of decades of struggles to end the system of race-based apartheid in South Africa. Due to an intense armed struggle, led by the African National Congress (ANC) and other organizations, and pressure from the United Nations, scholars, artists and activists, Nelson Mandela was released from prison on Robben Island. The South African government then collaborated with the ANC and the United Nations to organize the first democratic election in South Africa in 1994. Before the election, the ANC and Mandela engaged the global community in efforts to raise funds and support for the long-delayed democratization process in South Africa. Howard University was a point of initial contact for the ANC and Mandela because of the University’s long-standing and consistent role in the struggle to end imperialism, colonization, and apartheid.

In response, Howard sent a delegation of School of Law, Communications and Political Science faculty, students and staff, led by African Studies Department Chair Robert Cummings, Ph.D., to serve as official election observers for one month under the auspices of the Independent Electoral Commission (ICE). Students from the College of Arts and Sciences and Schools of Law, Communications and Business joined Political Science faculty Mae King, Ph.D. and Alvin Thornton, Ph.D., as election observers. While there, the delegation interacted with other Howard faculty and students who were serving as observers in other capacities. Among them were Ronald Walters, Ph.D., who in 1994 was chair of Howard’s Political Science Department, and African Studies professor Robert Edgar, Ph.D.

Following the election, Mandela made his first visit to the United States and made it a priority to visit Howard. The University held a special convocation in his honor and awarded him an honorary degree – making him a son of Howard.

*At Howard University, Ronald W. Walters Leadership and Public Policy Center, named in honor of Walters in recognition of his scholarship, leadership and African liberation related activities.




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