Nelson Mandela Foundation

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“We do not have a problem with money ... We do not necessarily have a problem with laws and policies … We also don't have a problem with talent … What we have is a problem of politics, where our political culture is incapable of yielding productive and developmental results.”

These were the opening reflections from Dr Sithembele Mbete during our recent dialogue, “What Does This Moment Call For?”, held at the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory on 28 March 2023.

The topic for the dialogue originated from discussions at the Foundation’s board retreat held towards the end of 2022 in which the board and management of the Foundation were grappling with the question of what this moment calls for. We realised that we were grappling with this question and other people and organisations were too.

The dialogue was opened with a keynote address from former President Kgalema Motlanthe who reflected on some of the technical aspects of our political crisis. In particular, he spoke about how the state needed to outlive government and the importance of building a capable state. Doing this requires the most capable people at the helm, and he argued that how senior officials currently get appointed did not facilitate this. Instead, candidates, who were political principals' personal preferences, were generally appointed. He called for the authority to appoint senior administration members to be delegated to the Public Service Commission, which arguably would help ensure a more transparent and rigorous selection process.

Following the keynote, the panel comprised Nontando Zintle Ngamlana, Executive Director at Afesis-Corplan; Gogo Aubrey Matshiqi, independent Political Analyst; Dr Sithembile Mbete, Senior Lecturer at the University of Pretoria; as well as Prof Tshepo Madlingozi, Director of the Centre for Applied Legal Studies. 

Nelson Mandela Foundation Head of Dialogue and Advocacy Sumaya Hendricks facilitated the dialogue and ignited discussion with the provocation that perhaps what we achieved in 1994 was emancipation from an oppressive regime and that South Africa continues to require an effective liberation movement to advance freedom and make the Constitution a lived reality for all.

Professor Madlingozi’s inputs interrogated the assumptions held in the dialogue's title – that is, is this moment different from other moments or are conditions just affecting the so-called middle class for the first time? Is this moment calling for something different compared to, for instance, the call for decolonisation and nation-building? By failing to commit ourselves to these imperatives, Tshepo argued, we have allowed the injustices of the past to fester wounds held in the present. Madlingozi asked difficult questions about some of our contemporary liberatory discourses. He stated that “for the majority of people, justice has been absent since 1994.” and asked, “When we say we need to save South Africa, who are we doing it for? When we say we need to reclaim democracy, who are we doing it for?”

In closing, Gogo Aubrey Matshiqi reflected on the spiritual and existential aspects of the poly-crisis we are facing and shared his recent dream. In the dream, it is the day after the passing of Nelson Mandela, and his body is being transported to the funeral, seated in a “Pope mobile”. Soon after, Nelson Mandela becomes six metres tall, the size of the Nelson Mandela statue at Nelson Mandela Square in Sandton. He is walking and gesturing, but he is not alive. Instead, he groans and acts like a “zombie”.

As we reflect on the 10th anniversary of Madiba’s passing, it is increasingly clear that nobody is coming to save us from ourselves. We are learning that part of the call of this moment is for the people to reclaim their power by being socially bonded, by engaging in honest and transformative dialogue and by insisting on the country that we earned in 1994, the country described in the Constitution, the country of Nelson Mandela’s dreams.

This dialogue was the first of the Foundation’s Critical Dialogue Series. This series aims to create a space for thought leadership, inspiring action, stimulating reflection and spurring fresh perspectives. Subscribe to our newsletter for updates on upcoming dialogues and follow us on social media to continue the conversation.

Watch the recording of the dialogue here: