UKZN Hosts Mandela-Rhodes Community Dialogues
Why are we still struggling with social transformation? This question was unpacked at the annual Conversations for Change, a dialogue initiative of the Mandela-Rhodes Community that began in 2012. For the third year running, the event was held in partnership with UKZN’s Corporate Relations Division. Almost 100 students, staff and community members gathered at Howard College Theatre on 4 September to engage with the sought-after panel of speakers.
Ms Kanyisa Booi from Pinetown, who began Mocha Panda (Youth Forward) dialogues across South Africa to get youth involved in discussions about national policies, asked: ‘Is transformation feasible and do we have policies in place that are fertile grounds for transformation? Can we make the policies work?’ She lamented the barriers to entrepreneurship, asking whether young people are equipped to be business people. ‘Are we harvesting the energy of the youth in the manner in which we should be?’ Booi is a Connections Leader at ‘Activate! Change Drivers’, a network of young leaders equipped to drive change for the public good. She is also on the Mail & Guardian’s 200 Young South Africans list for 2014.
Ms Zama Ndlovu, author of A Bad Black’s Manifesto, is a strategist for the National Planning Commission chaired by Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa and she is also the Managing Director of Youth Lab, a youth-policy think-tank based in Gauteng. She emphasised the importance of knowing when and how to be a good follower, reminding everyone that ‘even Nelson Mandela was a follower before a leader’.
Dr Rama Naidu, Founder and Executive Director of the Democracy Development Programme, challenged the audience to become active, listening citizens, who took time out to really understand the experiences of others. ‘Stop talking about the Whites that are racists and the Blacks that are entitled. Go over and listen to their story; don’t make it up. Stop having the same conversations about the same topics around the braai every month,’ he said, urging citizens to take charge of the types of conversations they engage in. ‘Start with the room you’re in,’ he advised.
In keeping with Naidu’s dictum that ‘the greatest wisdom can be found in the voice that is not heard’, the floor was opened for questions for an hour-and-a-half.
‘We always stick to an agenda where the speakers only make short, five-minute-long opening comments, provocative enough to inspire participation from the audience,’ said Mr Suntosh Pillay, Regional Coordinator of the Mandela-Rhodes Community. ‘This is a move away from events where there are long, drawn-out keynote speeches and almost no time for deep conversation to emerge.’
Audience questions ranged from the role of violent revolutions to whether freedom mattered when you were starving, the divisive nature of tribalism and collective group identities, the racialised nature of transformation, unemployed youth with university degrees, and whether dialogue in itself is a form of change.
Siya Khumalo, an audience member from Umgababa, said: ‘Personally, I took away that whenever faced with a political leader or public servant in an open forum, it is entirely appropriate to ask, “Why should I let you keep your job?” It’s my tax that’s paying their salary. Corporates are downsizing but government is upsizing. There’s something very wrong with that picture.’
The Mandela-Rhodes Community is an alumni body of recipients of the Mandela-Rhodes Scholarship and is a registered non-profit company aimed at furthering the goal of developing exceptional, ethical leadership capacity in Africa. According to Pillay, the Community has been most successful when it functions as a platform for debates, most notably at its annual conference, in online forums such as ThoughtLeader, and during the Conversations event. ‘We are happy to partner with similar organisations and host events jointly,’ he said.