When South Africa’s first post-apartheid government took office in 1994, it faced many daunting challenges. But the newcomers were well-prepared to tackle them, thanks in part to a bold IDRC
initiative that helped South Africa’s government-in-waiting build the policy-making, economic, and consensus-building capacities it would need to run the country and begin healing the wounds of the past.
A fruitful relationship
Relations between IDRC and South Africa’s exiled democratic movement began in 1988, amid growing international recognition that the country’s whites-only rule was on its last legs. Ivan Head, then-president of IDRC, believed that the Centre should look beyond the fall of apartheid to ask what kind of government would take its place. Would the new South Africa play an important role in an open global economy? Would it have the economic means and technical capacities to provide its citizens with employment and health care and to generate effective policies?
That challenge was taken up in a non-partisan way, with the goal of ensuring a South African government that could meet its population’s needs once international sanctions were lifted. IDRC
chose to support South African researchers focusing on concerns such as health, urban issues, and economic and industrial policy.
sponsored a meeting in Switzerland in 1989, for example, that brought together economists from South Africa’s private sector, the then-government, and the opposition-in-exile to discuss the country’s economic future. It also supported research on topics such as urban migration, labour issues, HIV/AIDS, and the strength of local health systems.
The insights generated by this research directly influenced later government policy-making: more than half the cabinet members in President Nelson Mandela’s first post-apartheid government, elected in 1994, had been involved in IDRC
-supported research. On a visit to Canada, Mandela noted that IDRC
played “a crucial role in helping the African National Congress and the Mass Democratic Movement to prepare for negotiations [and] was instrumental in helping us prepare for the new phase of governance and transformation.”
Research support for countries in transition
South Africa is just one of many examples of IDRC
's commitment to support countries in transition. Understanding that times of flux bring both the risk of chaos and the promise of rapid social and economic progress, IDRC
has been involved in some 25 countries on the move from war to peace, from dictatorship to democracy, or from a closed economy to free markets. Vietnam, Algeria, Burma, Cambodia, Chile, and Kenya are among the countries on that list.
Development research in countries in transition
IDRC in South AfricaIDRC
began supporting South African research and policy development in the late 1980s when it sought out members of the anti-apartheid movement both inside the country and in exile
Meeting of Democrats
Candid thoughts on the role that donor countries play in supporting democracy abroad
IDRC Digital Library
Search research outputs from South Africa