Conversations for Change Celebrates Africa Day at UKZN
The University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) in partnership with the Mandela-Rhodes Community hosted the 5th annual Conversations for Change event.
Conversations for Change is a Mandela-Rhodes Scholars initiative, conceived to create exciting public spaces to spark dialogue and debate about the roles people can play in moving Africa forward.
Addressing the hard-hitting theme “I’m not a racist, but…”, the conversation, hosted by the Chairperson: Mandela-Rhodes Scholars, Mr Suntosh Pillay, aimed to unpack racism and intersecting forms of prejudice, privilege and power, with speakers and the audience, grappling with this complex but urgent social dilemma.
Recent protest action on university campuses nationwide and racial outbursts on social media have drawn attention to critical issues affecting the Higher Education arena, and the country more broadly.
In the light of the amalgamation of economic and socio-political issues plaguing the state, UKZN’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Head of College: Humanities, Professor Cheryl Potgieter, said the 2015 protest action was necessary at that point in Higher Education and touched on deeper issues. ‘We cannot have reconciliation if we do not have economic justice. Addressing the land debate is the first step.’
Many members of the audience believed that reconciliation had not been adequately addressed since the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, contending that it had actually failed the majority of South Africans.
‘Many people are still angry. We cannot deal with racism if we do not have deep love for each other,’ an audience member commented.
Quoting the American feminist and anti-racism activist Peggy McIntosh in connection with her position on privilege and power among race groups, Mandela-Rhodes Scholar, Ms Unathi Bheku, discussed the historical dispossession of Black people, saying that social mechanisms had now become more critical than ever in ensuring that previously disadvantaged people moved from a position of deprivation to a position of benefit.
Posing the question, ‘how often do we each value introspection?’ columnist, researcher and political analyst, Ms Nompumelelo Runji, challenged the audience to confront their own prejudices and ideas of race and identity as a means to progress. ‘We all have a choice. Our Constitution expresses the best that we want to be and the worst we wish to depart from. The onus is on each individual.’
Affirming the power of the Constitution, retired Judge of the Constitutional Court and anti-apartheid political and community activist, Mr Zak Yacoob, discussed its ability to serve all people when necessary.
‘I am slave to the Constitution, which has been borne out of bloodshed,’ said Yacoob. ‘Our society does not create the society we contemplate, it provides us with a springboard to change things in our country. I think of our Constitution every night. I believe that we should all strive to be non-racist and non-sexist. It will be a difficult struggle, but we must make that individual effort first,’ said Yacoob.