Democracy in Africa Research Unit

Director: Prof Robert Mattes

The Democracy in Africa Research Unit strengthens empirical social science research capacity in Africa by supporting and conducting systematic research on key factors that shape the survival and quality of democracy in South Africa and the rest of the continent. DARU's activities are focused in four broad research areas: public opinion, voting and elections, political Institutions, and the political Consequences of HIV/AIDS. Read more about DARU

Latest Research: Why democracy should be taught in South African schools

Research has revealed that South African learners born after the end of apartheid, the so-called ‘born-free’ generation, are less supportive of democracy than their parents or older generations in comparable studies. Worryingly, only 60% of students believed that democracy is always preferable, and only 45% said that it is important for them to live in a country that is governed democratically. However, the same study has shown that civic education has an important role to play in encouraging a ‘demand for democracy’ among South African youth.

Read more:

Welcome, Alecia Ndlovu


Alecia Ndlovu has joined UCT as a lecturer in the Department of Political Studies, on a post funded through the CSSR. Alecia is currently completing her PhD in International Relations at Wits University. She holds a BA in International Relations and Applied Economics, as well as an MA (Cum Laude) in International Relations. Her main research and teaching interests are in political economy (comparative and international) and quantitative methods. Her thesis is entitled “Sustaining the unsustainable? Political institutions and development in sub-Saharan Africa’s resource economies.” It combines cross-national statistical research and fieldwork in four African countries—Ghana, Mozambique, Namibia and Zambia. Alecia's appointment strengthens the university's teaching and research in both quantitative social science and comparative African politics.

Can Donors Build Social Capital? Civil Society Assistance and Civic Engagement in sub-Saharan Africa

6 October, 2015 - 12:45 to 14:00
Sohyeon Kim
CSSR Seminar Room 4.29, Level 4 Leslie Social Science Building, Upper Campus
Abstract / Description: 


Donors have been using various strategies to promote democracy in developing countries. In the mid-1990s, building civil society came to the fore amongst donors influenced by Putnam’s publication, Making Democracy Work, on the importance of social capital for good governance. Putnam concluded that horizontal networks of civic engagement strengthen the performance of a polity. Donors have been stressing vibrant civic engagement since then. This research is to find a correlation between donors’ assistance to foster civil society and civic engagement in 18 sub-Saharan African countries using Afrobarometer survey data

South African’s Evaluations of Presidential Performance

8 September, 2015 - 12:45 to 14:00
Jamy Felton
CSSR Seminar Room 4.29, Level 4 Leslie Social Science Building, Upper Campus
Abstract / Description: 

In 2009 the African National Congress (ANC) won their fourth successive term as South Africa’s ruling party. Consequentially, this meant that their party leader, Jacob Zuma, became South Africa’s fourth democratic president. Prior to his appointment, the South African news media was rife with criticism of Zuma over his recent rape charges, his views of women, his polygamous beliefs, and his involvement in the South African Arms Deal Saga, yet was often referred to as "the populist". Fast forward to Nelson Mandela's memorial service in December 2013, and suddenly the crowd is singin a different tune. Every time President Zuma took the stage, boos echoed through the stadium.

This introduces an interesting question about the South African people and the way they shape their evaluations of presidents. Is it based upon who the president is (their identity), how their government has performed, or what South Africans know or see? My thesis is a quantitative study using IDASA and Afrobarometer data to test three competing hypotheses (Identity, Performance Evaluation and Cognitive Awareness) in trying to explain how South Africans shape their evaluations of their president between 1997 and 2011. 

The Double Misperception? Public Expectations and MP Orientations to Legislative Roles in Africa

7 April, 2015 - 12:45 to 14:00
Robert Mattes
CSSR Seminar Room 4.29, Level 4 Leslie Social Science Building, Upper Campus
Abstract / Description: 


Most analysts of African politics claim that the relationship between citizens and elected representatives is not one of principals and agents, but rather one of clients and patrons.  I provide an initial interrogation of this common wisdom with data from the African Legislatures Project, describing across 17 countries how members of parliament understand their own roles, and what African citizens expect from their MPs.  Neither MP role orientations nor citizen expectations neatly conform to the common wisdom.  There is a great deal of variation across the continent, and much of it has to do with electoral system design.  Single member constituencies, particularly, provide a range of interesting dynamics that produce surprising gaps between what citizens want and what their MPs do.

Sihle Nontshokweni wins award

Congratulations to Sihle Nontshokweni for being awarded the first Thembi Losi Leadership and Legacy Award at the graduation ceremony for the South African Washington International Program (SAWIP). The Award was established in memory of the late Thembakazi Losi, who had been (with Sihle) a participant in SAWIP. Well done Sihle!

Sihle writes from Washington:

At the beginning of this year I was selected for the South African Washington International Program (SAWIP).  Thembi (my friend) was similarly selected for this program in 2011.

Upon her passing a Thembi Losi: Leadership and Legacy Award was established which is awarded at each SAWIP Graduation Ceremony to a SAWIP graduand who most reflects symbolic qualities of Thembi’s favourite flower; Orchids. These qualities include: love, generosity, fortitude and the ability to work with others. The criteria for this award are detailed on this page.

Why Some Muslim Countries are Democracies and Some are Not

19 August, 2014 - 13:00 to 14:00
Shaheen Mozaffar Professor of Political Science Bridgewater State University and Research Fellow Centre for Social Science Research,UCT.
CSSR Seminar Room 4.29, Level 4 Leslie Social Science Building.
Abstract / Description: 

This presentation examines the argument that the relationship between democracy and Islam, and between democracy and religion more broadly, is a contingent relationship. The contingency derives from variations in (a) the salience of religion as a basis of social cleavage relative to the salience of other bases of social cleavages (e.g. class, ethnicity, race, region, language), and (b) the multifaceted ways in which religion becomes institutionalized in politics and governance. These variations suggest four possible outcomes: (1) High institutionalization of religion, independent of social cleavage patterns, will endanger democracy. (2) High institutionalization combined with high social salience of religion at the expense of other sources of social cleavage will weaken the prospects of democracy. (3) Moderate institutionalization of religion combined with cross-cutting social ethnic, language and religious fractionalization will facilitate democracy. (4) Low institutionalization and low social salience of religion reinforced by cross-cutting social cleavages will strengthen democracy.

Sihle goes to Washington DC

Sihle Nontshokweni was selected for the South African Washington International Program (SAWIP). Sihle is a a research assistant in DARU in the CSSR. SAWIP is a 7 month program of personal and professional development aimed at developing future generations of leaders in a post conflict South Africa. 18 students have been selected for the class of 2014 from four universities (UCT, UWC, Stellenbosch and the University of Pretoria). The program is made of three core elements. The first is leadership development; this is experienced over a seven month leadership curriculum both in South Africa and in Washington DC. The second being community engagement, which is expressed through individual and team projects. The third being professional exposure which is expressed through a six week work exposure in prestigious placements such as the World Bank, Capitol Hill, USADF etc. Sihle worked at a health consulting firm, called John Snow Incop (JSI). Whilst at John Snow, she worked on the Presidents Young Professionals Program for Young Liberians (PYPP). This is Sirleaf Ellen Johnson’s signature move to build the next generation of civil servants in Liberia. In the 5 weeks she managed to organise a panel discussion with all the young Liberians on the Mandela-Washington Fellowship in DC, released two press releases and several spotlights which were used towards the development of the PYPP website.

South Africa’s Emerging Black Middle Class: A Harbinger of Change?

5 August, 2014 - 13:00 to 14:00
Professor Robert Mattes
CSSR Seminar Room 4.29, Level 4 Leslie Social Science Building.
Abstract / Description: 

In this article I explore whether members of South Africa's emerging black middle class exhibit different political values,evaluations, and behaviours than the other black citizens. Futhermore, I explore whether the impact of class is due to physiological security or higher levels of education, as well as whether the impact of either of these markers of class are greater for yournger middle class blacks who have grown up under conditions of abundance or with higher education. I find that the attitudinal consequences of indicators of the middle class are inconsistent and sometimes contradictory. There is little evidence that the emerging black middle class is either more or less loyal to the governing ANC,though they are more positive in their evaluations of government action. The are signs however, that they are less likely to take part in a range of campaign, and inter-election democratic activities.


Symposium on African Public Opinon

To mark the end of the CSSR-Afrobaromeer Summer School, a symposium was held on the morning of Friday 7 February 2014. The symposium was opened by UCT Vice-Chancellor Professor Thandabantu Nhlapo. Papers were presented by a selection of by members of the Afrobarometer Executive Committee as well as the prize-winning participant in the 2014 Summer School. Presentations covered topics such as the historical roots of variation in trust across Africa, the implications of mobile phones for citizenship, and the relatonship between atttudes to tradtional leaders and atttudes to local government.

CSSR-Afrobarometer Summer School

The second joint CSSR/Afrobarometer Anglophone Summer School was held at UCT from 13 January to 7 February. The four-week summer school consisted of five two-week modules in substantive subjects relevant to the Afrobarometer Project in the broad areas of democracy, governance and public policy as well as two four-week modules in research design and social statistics. This year’s summer school instructors included Professor Robert Mattes, Professor Jeremy Seekings, Professor Rajen Govender and Dr Pedro Wolf of the Centre for Social Science Research as well as Professor Gyimah-Boadi, Professor Michael Bratton and Dr Boniface Dulani of the Afrobarometer Network. A total of 30 participants from 18 African countries participated. Participants presented ther reserach papers on the fnal day of the School. The Summer School comprises two UCT-registered courses, at Honours and Masters levels; partcipants had the option of registering for these courses.

CSSR research on young South Africans

The CSSR has long been active in researching the experiences of, and the challenges and opportunities facing, young people in South Africa. Jeremy Seekings, Bob Mattes, Elena Moore, Ariane De Lannoy and Pedro Wolf conducted research for the Centre for Development and Enterprise, which recently published a summary report which in turn has received some publicity in the press. Jeremy's work focused on experiences in the labour market, and especially the ways in which inequalities are reproduced between generations. Bob's research focused on young people's attitudes towards democratic citizenship. Elena considered transitions in family life, Pedro considered health-compromising behaviours, and Ariane examined schooling and education.

High school learners' opinions about immigration: Preliminary evidence from the the 2012 Cape Area Study

30 October, 2012 - 13:00
Kevin O'Neil
CSSR, Room 4.29, Leslie Social Science Building
Abstract / Description: 

Some opinion surveys have found that South African respondents are highly skeptical of foreigners and immigrants, relative to respondents from other countries. This, combined with high profile attacks on immigrants in recent years, calls for an investigation of the sources of hostility toward outsiders. This presentation examines predictors of attitudes toward immigration among the “born free” generation, testing several hypotheses that scholars have used to explain xenophobia in South Africa and elsewhere. The analysis uses new, preliminary data from the 2012 Cape Area Study, a survey recently conducted by CSSR's Democracy in Africa Research Unit that asked Cape-Town area high school learners and their teachers and parents about their opinions on civics and other public issues. The hypothesis that skepticism of immigration is driven by economic anxiety receives some support, while the hypothesis that hostility toward immigration is a byproduct of South Africa’s nation-building efforts is not supported. Measures of educational effectiveness are also not associated with levels of support for immigration.

Course for South African Parliament

The CSSR is running a 3-day course on "Doing Research for researchers" at the South African Parliament. The course, from 25-27 June, has been designed to help parliamentary researchers to reflect critically on the design, practice and presentation of research. We live in a world where information is abundant: the challenge facing researchers is often not so much “how do we collect new information?” as “how do we make good use of the information that is already available?” We have to avoid being overwhelmed by the volume of information, distinguish between reliable and unreliable information, and present our findings effectively and honestly. The course examines how we collect the information that we need, how we make sure that we have good information, how we can use quantitative data sensibly and critically, how we organize our analyses, and how we communicate our analysis to our audiences.

Carlos wins prestigious award

PhD student Carlos Shenga has won the 2012 UPEACE-IDRC Doctoral Research Award! The Award covers generous tuition and research expenses.

The doctoral research award is part of a joint undertaking by the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) and the UN University for Peace (UPEACE) to develop an evidence-based, strong research capacity in Africa on critical issues of governance and security. 

Congratulations to Carlos!