BETTER DAYS: Prof Njabulo Ndebele, the late Dr Frederik van Zyl Slabbert and Dr Alex Boraine take part in a panel discussion at Idasa's 20th birthday celebrations at the Market Theatre in Johannesburg in September 2007. Picture: MARTIN RHODES
BETTER DAYS: Prof Njabulo Ndebele, the late Dr Frederik van Zyl Slabbert and Dr Alex Boraine take part in a panel discussion at Idasa's 20th birthday celebrations at the Market Theatre in Johannesburg in September 2007. Picture: MARTIN RHODES

POLITICAL think-tank the Institute of Democracy in Africa is set to shut down next week after 27 years due to trouble sourcing sufficient funding.

Idasa executive director Paul Graham said in a statement on Tuesday that the board had made the decision to close the institute and an application to the North Gauteng High Court to liquidate the organisation is set to be heard next week.

Mr Graham cited changing "sociopolitical circumstances", saying despite concerted efforts over the past three years, "it has not proved possible to garner the financial support necessary to continue its work in a sustainable manner or pay its debts".

Mr Graham said those involved in Idasa would continue their work from different platforms.

The 27-year-old institute, first formed in 1987 as the Institute for a Democratic Alternative in South Africa by Frederik Van Zyl Slabbert and Alex Boraine.

Idasa renamed itself and shifted its focus after the 1994 election to building democratic societies across the continent.

Idasa had an impressive list of local and international donors, in previous years achieving annual revenue above R100m. According to the institute’s annual reports, revenue was R115m in 2008, R106m in 2009 and R115m in 2010.

Donors included the World Bank, European embassies in South Africa, various organs of the United Nations as well as diverse groups such as Women of Zimbabwe Arise.

The institute garnered extensive international media coverage in publications including the New York Times and UK Guardian newspaper, with its citation in 1,366 media articles in 2010 reaching a possible 750-million people.

Idasa executives declined to comment further on its closure on Tuesday, saying it would do so following the court case next week.

Director of the Centre for the Study of Democracy, Steven Friedman, who remains a member of Idasa, said on Tuesday he had not been informed or consulted on the decision to close the institute, which was "unfortunate".

Prof Friedman said it was unlikely Idasa’s closure would leave a vacuum in terms of democratic promotion, as "it is what organisations do that is important", not institutes themselves. Idasa could leave some gaps but these may be filled by others organisations, he said.

Idasa had made an "important contribution" during the negotiation period, as well as significant work on budget transparency after 1994, he said.