Mandela Rhodes Conversations reveal ‘Anger at Inequality’
‘I can’t speak my own language right here in Durban,’ said academic leader in Development Studies at UKZN, Dr Mvuselelo Ngcoya, at this year’s Conversations for Change.
Ngcoya, a panelist at the event, lamented the slow pace of transformation in South Africa, using an example of an incident whereby a waitress in Glenwood was offended because he greeted her in isiZulu . ‘I will never go there again,’ he said.
Hosted by the Mandela Rhodes Community, Activate!, and UKZN, students, staff and community members filled the Howard College Theatre to engage with four experts on whether Africa was united in its diversity.
Chairperson of the event, Mr Suntosh Pillay, said more dialogue spaces were needed. ‘The energy was amazing. People are angry, inspired, restless, optimistic, but most of all, ready for change. The Rhodes Must Fall movement brought decolonization back onto the national agenda. But xenophobic violence made society question what unity in diversity actually means. Social pathologies continue to haunt us,’ said Pillay.
Activist and conflict negotiator, Mr Vasu Gounden, who founded the African Centre for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes (ACCORD), challenged students to deal with inequality, poverty and unemployment. ‘Every generation must define their mission, and then either fulfil it or betray it,’ said Gounden, quoting anti-colonial writer, Frantz Fanon, to resounding applause from the audience.
Law student and President of the Debating Union, Mr Elisha Kunene, defended his stance that UKZN students should take a different route to the UCT students in handling the colonial statues saga, in light of the defacing of King George V statue outside the venue.
PhD researcher and programmes manager of the Democracy Development Programme (DDP), Mr Paul Kariuki, urged everyone to ‘keep talking’ because dialogue preceded all change.
As part of Africa Week, Mandela Rhodes scholars and the Activate! Leadership network also ran grassroots conversations in Ndwedwe in northern KZN where learners from three schools attended a diversity and leadership training workshop. ‘We want to nurture young leaders and help them take an idea for social change and turn it into a practical plan that embraces diversity and prevents incidents like xenophobic violence from happening again,’ said Pillay.
Activate! Connector and event partner, Ms Kanyisa Booi, said: ‘We are at a stage where we first need tolerance in diversity, then education, then appreciation, and then unity is an eventuality.’
Chief editorial officer at Socially Acceptable, Ms Nazareen Ebrahim, who was a member of the audience, said she appreciated the very good effort at engaging young people in dialogue to effect social change, but criticised the space as ‘still occupied primarily by academic or angry lettered youth who are newly discovering the theories from sociology, psychology or politics’.
ACTIVATE! is a network of young leaders or ‘activators’ equipped to drive change for the public good across South Africa. The organisation was born out of the experience of Dr David Harrison, former CEO of LoveLife, who realised that there are many young South Africans who are talented and committed to transforming their communities. He found, however, that these young people hit a glass ceiling because of a lack of skill and opportunity. Because of this, it was decided that a mechanism of sorts was needed to capitalise on their spark and commitment, while building their capacity to drive public innovation and social transformation in South Africa. In 2011, as part of its Leadership portfolio, the DG Murray Trust commissioned the establishment of a special purpose public benefit organisation, to develop and deploy the ACTIVATE! Programme.
For more info: Kanyisa Booi: firstname.lastname@example.org / 0717727060
The hosted event stems from a partnership between UKZN, The Mandela Rhodes Community and ACTIVATE! The Mandela Rhodes Community is a body envisions itself as a socially relevant and reliable source of intellectual and passionate leadership, and hopes that the Conversations for Change event brings together educational and business institutions, communities, high scholars, academics and the general public. ACTIVATE! is a network of young leaders or ‘activators’ equipped to drive change for the public good across South Africa.
Pillay highlighted how our Community is incredibly diverse in nationalities, cultures, political affiliations, educational histories, and ideologies. He further said, ‘These differences are our biggest asset and exemplify a pan-African unity in diversity. We have been most successful when we function as a platform for debates, most notably at our annual conference which is a key networking space and idea incubator, having had notable speakers such as Ms Grace Machel and Mr Zackhie Achmat; and via media articles on the website ThoughtLeader. Our aim is to position the Community as a space for non-partisan intellectual and progressive debate. But beyond words and ideas, we hope to inspire ourselves and others towards enacting change.'
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Photo: Albert Hirasen