On the 17th of August 2021, the Nelson Mandela Foundation facilitated a virtual dialogue entitled ‘Public Solidarity Towards Radical Reform’, which formed part of the build-up to the 19th Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture. The dialogue aimed to respond to both deep global structural imperatives and immediate realities in South Africa as the country works to recover from the wave of public violence during July. This shaped the framing of the dialogue as well as the recognition that while the role of government is integral in spearheading reforms, the non-governmental sector’s access to resource both in terms of human and financial capital, demands that we too think about what we can do differently to push, support and supplement the State’s efforts.
The dialogue was moderated by Lwando Xaso, who is a writer and lawyer as well as founder of Including Society. The panellists were Gloria Serobe, who is the Chairman of the Solidarity Response Fund, which was formed in March 2020 in response to the President’s call for national unity at the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic in South Africa; David Harrison who is the CEO of the DG Murray Trust, a South African foundation with a strong focus on Early Childhood Development, education and youth leadership for public innovation; and Yaseen Theba, Director of Vision Tactical and Chairman of the Muslim Association of South Africa.
The guest speakers were welcomed by Mr Sello Hatang, Chief Executive of the Nelson Mandela Foundation. In his welcome he highlighted that in the midst of the violence that was going on in South Africa, we saw people on the ground standing together in solidarity, supporting the law, making peace and cleaning up the streets that had been damaged by the looting. This demonstration restored hope in humanity and reassured the world that there are still people who remember how hard the country fought in order to get to the point it is today. He reiterated that this is the kind of solidarity the country is going to need moving forward as the incidents of July demonstrated the country’s need to address the root causes of the violent outbreak. The Foundation believes that sincere collaboration can take us far as a nation and civil society can work with the private and public sectors in order to deepen and strengthen democracy. The dialogue was aimed at contributing to the conversations about the questions the violence posed to South Africans.
David Harrison used the opportunity to present to the audience what he termed ‘Radical Redistribution of Hope’. He provided a demonstration that showed that fatalism is likely to result in a society where solidarity is low and people have a low perception of choice, while egalitarianism is likely to result where solidarity is high and perception of choice is realistic. This speaks directly to how the people who participated in these acts of violence felt as they had nothing to lose. Even if the economy were to be negatively affected by their violent demonstrations, they had nothing to lose as the economy already excluded them.
Gloria Serobe, drawing on her experience of living in Apartheid, spoke to how Apartheid thrived on deprivation – education; land and just about anything that was important. Moreover, the regime put their best minds to this effort to ensure Apartheid was implemented efficiently, so much so that we continue to feel its effects. Thus, in order to untie these knots, we too need the best minds because we have to undo a very sophisticated system and as such we cannot be casual about reforms.
Yaseen Theba drew the audience’s attention towards the idea of taking accountability and responsibility as a country. He argued the nation needs to look at what it can do to bring about the change that it wants to see rather than always looking up to the government to make a change. Lwando referred to this as the paradox of freedom. As such, she was speaking to how getting the freedom alone is not enough, once obtained it requires more work, more maintenance and improvement.
While the scale of the challenge may seem immense, we must have hope that things can be better, but not the “sit on the sofa… feeling lucky” kind of hope but rather seeing hope as “an axe you break down doors with in an emergency”. As poignantly put by Rebecca Solnit, this kind of hope “should shove you out the door, because it will take everything you have to steer the future”.
The dialogue can be accessed on the Nelson Mandela Foundations Events page at https://events.nelsonmandela.org/events/2021/08/17/public-solidarity-towards-radical-reform