On the 5th of December 2020, the 7th anniversary of the passing of Nelson Mandela, the Nelson Mandela Foundation, with the support of the Hanns Seidel Foundation, hosted a dialogue event commemorating the passing of Nelson Mandela. The event took place virtually, streamed from the Nelson Mandela Foundation’s auditorium to a virtual platform and live on a number of major television broadcast stations.
The dialogue explored liberatory social imaginaries in the context of profound social, political and economic divides, exacerbated by the emergence of the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdowns introduced to curb the spread. At the centre of the dialogue was the concern surrounding the rise of nationalism and xenophobia, the failures of democracy’s "social contracts" and the relationship between states when there are humanitarian abuses occurring.
Award-winning author, Tsitsi Dangarembga, opened the conversation with an analysis of the conditions that make the scale and extent of social division we are witnessing possible.
“When a human being perceives another human being as another me, the gap between the two human beings is bridged. This bridging is the process of identifying with. Bridging through identifying with is achieved by bringing to the centre of attention commonalities between the ‘me’ and the ‘you’ in the system. It functions whether the "you" is singular or, as in the case of the quote, plural. Identifying with is the process by which relationship is constructed. Once identifying with is achieved and relationship is built, any differences which threaten to disrupt identification and break relationship can be better dealt with,” stated Dangarembga.
Dangarembga’s presentation offered new ideas that address the foundations of social division and fracture by looking at a quote by Nelson Mandela, stating: “Freedom is indivisible; the chains on any one of my people were the chains on all of them, the chains on all of my people were the chains on me.”
Dangarembga’s paraphrasing invites us to consider our specific communities in the place of “my people”, to further a greater solidarity and expand our sense of community.
Drawing from Madiba’s legacy, Dangarembga reflected on how Nelson Mandela’s ‘long walk to freedom’ was ‘long’ and that we cannot expect the ‘walks’ by our regions, continents and the globe to freedom to be short.
First Lady of Namibia Monica Geingos followed Dangarembga’s inputs and highlighted the function of violence and identity in the times in which we find ourselves. Her appeal was for Africans not to “normalise violence in our communities”.
“The high levels of violence characterised many of our countries. And violence has become a communication within the family, within the community with devastating consequences. These same individuals who are so angry for service delivery that they can burn a library, a clinic or a school to communicate their unhappiness with the government will be the same individuals who will beat or step on a Mozambican national as a way of chasing away foreign nationals in their settlements. So we must invest in psycho-social support and focus on reducing the violence that is almost ingrained in some of our communities.”
This is true in many parts of the world, especially in those with a long history of devastating state-sanctioned violence, we see high levels of interpersonal violence of many kinds including gender-based violence. This spurs our divisions on and suspends the opportunity to produce substantive and effective communities, especially within communities with significant political, religious, national, sexual, and gender diversity.
Mrs Graça Machel, humanitarian and widow to Nelson Mandela, closed the event with reflections on Madiba’s values, the legacy he left behind and the opportunities available to us to heal from our woundedness.
Mrs Machel focused on the reality that Africans, especially in the SADC region, are divided and the leadership institutions meant to foster unity and equality have allowed discord and fracture to take root, further stating that 'SADC' exists in name alone. She went on to challenge leaders in Africa to rebuild trust and accountability in the region to combat division and other social ills.
“I think this region has changed so much and to be really very honest, I think it is going to be extremely difficult to have our states or our leaders take us back to what we have been in terms of connection. I don’t know what happened. I did not need to know whether someone is from Namibia or Botswana or is from Angola, I didn’t need to because there were those social movements who were helping us to communicate and connect.”
A recording of the event can be found Here.
Tsitsi Dangarembga’s inputs were based on a piece she wrote that can be found Here.
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