Building inclusive democracies

Sello Hatang: CE Nelson Mandela Foundation

Amina J Mohammed. (Image: Supplied)

It is with great pleasure that the Nelson Mandela Foundation has announced United Nations Deputy Secretary-General Amina J Mohammed as the 2017 Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture speaker.

The Annual Lecture remains one of the Foundation’s flagship projects and is a key vehicle to shift narratives around critical social issues in South Africa.

The 2017 Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture continues under the broad umbrella of analysing the unequal structures of power and the causes of inequality. Following the Thomas Piketty (2015) and Bill Gates (2016) lectures, which focused on wealth inequality and social inclusion respectively, the 2017 lecture will highlight another dimension – that of gender inequality and its effect on systemic inequality.

It builds on what Chilean President Michelle Bachelet spoke about when she gave the 2014 Annual Lecture. We believe that by focusing on gender, we will broaden the dialogue on inequality to the multiple inequalities persistent in our country, on our continent and in the word world that are not easily quantifiable or understandable, but shape our understanding of “being” in fundamental ways.

As President Bachelet noted in her address, “Cultural, economic, social and political discrimination against women is one of the most scandalous inequalities that exist on our planet. And this is a reality not only in Chile, Africa, Latin America and on the African continent; it’s an integral reality around the world.”

Often, as South Africans, we are reluctant to learn from experiences and voices from outside our borders and to contextualise many of our problems within a global system.

While our work at the Foundation is primarily based within the country, it must also be seen in a global context, and we therefore hope that Ms Mohammed will be able to bring this international and continental perspective to her lecture and for it to create a national conversation in South Africa on “how to do differently”.

During August, we also received and are processing the applications for our first cohort for the Atlantic Fellows for Racial Equity, which will become a key project in future. We will select 10 high-potential fellows to join 25 fellows from the US to become part of a cross-continental cohort that feeds into a global fellowship addressing some of the world’s most pressing issues.

Fellows from diverse backgrounds who are actively combating anti-black racism will spend a year in the programme, engaged in academic and dialogue programmes, as well as gaining skills and access to finance and networks.

Fellows will also travel to the US and within South Africa on field tours and for seminars, and spend time with partner organisations, including Columbia University, Black Organizing for Leadership and Dignity, the Center for Community Change, the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) Legal Defense and Educational Fund, and the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society at University of California, Berkeley. (For more information on this project, visit http://www.atlanticfellows.org/).

We hope that the fellows can begin engaging with radical new thinking and narratives. I believe our transformation often remains shallow and superficial, rather than the deeper structural transformation that is required.

In our daily life, we often find ourselves maintaining the status quo and failing to understand or to challenge the many manifestations and dynamics of inequality.

One such instance happened to me recently while visiting my mother-in-law at a state hospital. When challenging the staff to pay better attention to my mother-in-law, I was accused of “acting white”. After my initial shock, I thought about what this meant.

For me, it pointed to a learnt behaviour where a demand for accountability and respect is associated with white people, and that white people often receive better service due to these deep structural issues from our colonial and apartheid history.

These are aspects of our political and social make-up that must change if we are ever to break out of the colonial model. As Madiba once stated, “All of us know how stubbornly racism can cling to the mind and how deeply it can infect the human soul. Where it is sustained by the racial ordering of the material world, as in the case in our country, that stubbornness can multiply a hundredfold.”

It is my belief that capacitated and engaged fellows from diverse backgrounds will be able to provide us with the language and actionable steps to start working on a future free from racial oppression and inequality. The road may be long, but it is one of the steps along the way.

As we move towards the last quarter of the year, we move into high gear to prepare for Madiba’s centenary. Twenty years ago at his 80th birthday celebration, he remarked, “If I were to be granted one wish on this occasion, it would be that all South Africans should rededicate ourselves to turning this into the land of our dreams: a place that is free of hatred and discrimination; a place from which hunger and homelessness have been banished; a safe place for our children to grow into our future leaders.”

As time passes, we again betray another generation of young people to poverty and destitution. We must use this occasion to fulfil Madiba’s wish, and I challenge all South Africans to use 2018 as a platform to fully engage with the difficult work that lies ahead.