New South Institute’s Launch: A Global Platform for Delicate Democracies
13th April, the New South Institute (NSI), formerly known as the Government and Public Policy think tank, celebrated its formal launch event in Johannesburg. The event marked a pivotal moment for the NSI, as it showcased its new focus on comparative analysis between South Africa and countries in the Global South. Among the distinguished attendees were NSI partners, academics, and authorities, all gathered to celebrate this new chapter and learn about the institute’s mission and goals.
Ivor Chipkin, co-founder and executive director of the NSI, opened the event with a powerful speech that set the tone for the day. He highlighted the methodological shift of the NSI towards exploring South African challenges by comparing experiences with other countries dealing with delicate democracies. Chipkin argued that “there is something about transitions that gives these countries a certain comparable quality.”
In his speech, Chipkin emphasised the importance of public policy and high-quality research in addressing institutional weaknesses and poor policies. He stated, “The investment that South Africa needs is in public policy.” Chipkin concluded by expressing gratitude to key people who have contributed to the NSI’s establishment, including Jelena Vidojevic, co-founder of GAPP and the NSI, and other colleagues and researchers.
Distinguished Fellow Radmila Nakarada spoke at the event, emphasizing the importance of striking a balance between centralization and decentralization in governance. Drawing on her experience with the former Yugoslavia, she underscored the relevance of this issue to the NSI’s mission in addressing complex challenges faced by delicate democracies. Nakarada explained, “Complex societies face the challenge of finding the right equilibrium between centralization and decentralization. Decentralization taken too far can lead to secession becoming a realistic option. The key is to invest in solidarity, distribution, rule of law, and fostering a sense of community that is valuable to all citizens.”
She went on to highlight the consequences of failing to find this balance in the case of Yugoslavia and stressed the importance of learning from this example for South Africa and other countries in the Global South. “In Yugoslavia, there were not enough Yugoslavs who prioritized the value of the community, which ultimately led to its dissolution. South Africa must learn from this example and ensure that there are enough South Africans committed to preserving the nation as a state and society, despite the various challenges they face. Success in striking this balance depends on the progress of the ongoing transition since the 1990s and the ability to benefit all citizens, fostering a profound loyalty to the community of South Africa.”
In an interview, NSI board member Pratap Bhanu Mehta said: ‘The deeper the dialogue, the better it helps us understand what is contingent and necessary for the diagnoses we make, and that is why I love the NSI’s ‘New South’ approach. We need a new framework to analyse national formation and governance challenges in a comparative perspective. The global context of great power confrontation will also require the countries of the Global South to adopt new attitudes towards each other, and we need new spaces for these conversations. The NSI contributes by providing a platform for these discussions to take place”.
Commenting on her involvement with the NSI, Taibat Lawanson, another member of the NSI Board, said: “When I was invited to participate in last year’s conference on governance architecture, I was surprised by the diversity of issues being addressed and the diversity of people invited to participate in the conversation. It was a wonderful opportunity to learn and be challenged, and it was a great chance to feel refreshed by the governance challenges in other regions of the world and the new initiatives being implemented to improve systems. We tend to focus on what is not working, rather than identifying the gaps and thinking about how to fill them. The NSI is interested in doing just that: identifying problems and proposing solutions. I am delighted to be part of this agenda”.
Rafael Leite, a research fellow and representative of the NSI office in São Paulo, spoke about the importance of institutions like the NSI in improving governance and building better democracies. He highlighted the parallels between Brazil and South Africa, noting that both countries face challenges in transforming democratic governance into effective and inclusive institutions.
Martha Ngoye, also a board member of the NSI, shared her interest in joining the institute due to its alignment with her values and passion for restoring good governance in public and private institutions in the Global South. Drawing from her experience as a whistleblower, she noted the importance of transparency and public accountability in a functioning democracy. Ngoye expressed her enthusiasm for working with like-minded people, saying, “I see my participation on the NSI board as a way to put my expertise to great use in changing the status quo and building a better Global South.”
The launch of the NSI attracted significant attention and coverage from esteemed media outlets, such as the Business Day newspaper, whose columnist and NSI research fellow Anthony Butler welcomed the launch of the institute, stating, “Given the tendency of the SA elite to parochialism, it is a particularly propitious time for the arrival on the local scene of the New South Institute (NSI), a global think-tank headquartered in Johannesburg”.
By drawing on the experience of South Africa and other countries in the Global South, the NSI aims to provide deep comparative insights that will guide future governance and public action, thereby addressing the complex challenges facing delicate democracies. The attention garnered by the institute’s launch highlights its potential to make a significant impact on governance and public policy in the Global South.