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“Time magazine has called 2024 the ultimate election year, as 64 countries go to the polls this year. These results will have major consequences for life and living, for planet and people,” said Nelson Mandela University Acting Vice-Chancellor, Professor Andre Keet.


From left SAHRC Commissioner, Nomahlubi Khwinana, SAHRC Chairperson, Reverend Chris Nissen, SAHRC CEO Vusimuzi Mkhize and Professor Andre Keet, Mr Mkhize and the sign language interpreter. 

It is in this remarkable election year that the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC), created by the South African Constitution, chose to partner with Mandela University to launch the Digital Rights Alliance Elections Statement last week (2 May 2024).

Chief Operations Officer of the SAHRC, Advocate Chrystal Pillay highlighted the need for a response to the rapid evolution of digital technologies and their impact on human rights, hence the convergence of global NRIs to address the emerging challenges in the digital space.

“Given these technological advancements, it is crucial to proactively safeguard rights, such as freedom of expression and safety from misinformation during the election process,” said Prof Keet.

“It bodes well for the standing of our Chapter 9 institutions and the kind of work they would like to do under trying circumstances, because the general liberal democratic project is under strain; not only in our country, but globally,” he added.

The SAHRC is a member of the National Human Rights Digital Rights Alliance, which is coordinated by the Danish Institute for Human Rights. This is a global network of 31 national human rights institutions dedicated to consolidating the role of the National Human Rights Institute (NHRI) in the digital age, with the specific aim of protecting digital rights and freedom.

The SAHRC’s decision to launch in Mandela University’s Auditorium, South Campus, in front of a full capacity audience, including staff, students and learners from Loyiso High School, was intentional according to its Commissioner, Nomahlubi Khwinana, who dubs the Eastern Cape the ‘land of legends’ who fought for justice and equality.

“As an NHRI, the SAHRC stands as a custodian of democracy in South Africa. Our mandate encompasses the protection, promotion, and monitoring, of all human rights across all sectors of society, including the electoral process,” said Commissioner Khwinana.

“Elections hold particular significance as a means to advancing, equality, justice and reconciliation, so the significance of today’s launch cannot be overstated, for it signifies not only a call to action, but also a cry for digital democracy,” she added.

SAHRC Chairperson, Reverend Chris Nissen, reiterated this by reaffirming that “as guardians of human rights, we acknowledge the unprecedented role that technologies play in modern elections, and we affirm our commitment to upholding democracy, transparency, accounting and the promotion of human rights”.

Unpacking elections in the age of digital technologies, Independent Electorate Commission (IEC) Commissioner, Dr Janet Love stressed that “transparency means we have a duty to protect the privacy of voters. We have a duty to ensure that our transparency respects safety, so access to information has to balance the requirement of protecting people,” she said.

Prof Keet lauded the Faculties of Humanities and Law, who were involved in this launch.

“Humanities’ task is the revitalisation of the human sciences and pursuing the various forms of interpretative skills, which help us to make sense of the interface between humans and human technologies”.  

“So too, the Faculty of Law, which is focused on empowering society to fulfil its constitutional goals, and is driven by justice, transformation, excellence, and accountability,” he said.

Commissioner Khwinana concluded that “the NHRI Digital Rights Alliance Statement aims to guard towards a future where digital technologies are harnessed to empower citizens and strengthen democratic institutions, ensuring that every voice is heard online and offline”.

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Ms Zandile Mbabela
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