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The Mandela Rhodes Community and UKZN hosted the 7th annual Conversations for Change debate on the Howard College campus which, held 100 years after Nelson Mandela’s birth, focused on the Promises and Paradoxes of Reconciliation.

The robust panel discussion included former MP and newly appointed Executive Director for Undoing Tax Abuse (OUTA), Dr Makhosi Khoza; PhD Intern Researcher at UKZN’s Maurice Webb Race Relations Unit and political and social commentator, Mr Lukhona Mnguni; and Director of the Institute of Afrikology, Ms Yaa Ashantewaa K Archer-Ngidi.

Khoza said the topic of this year’s discussion was critical for South Africa as she believed the country was ‘heading for a national psychological suicide of unprecedented proportions.’

In keeping with Africa Month, Khoza quoted outstanding intellectuals from the African soil, including Bissau-Guinean and Cape Verdean agricultural engineer, nationalist and diplomat, Amilcar Cabral, one of the continent’s foremost anti-colonial leaders: ‘We want no-one to exploit our people anymore, neither Whites nor Blacks, because it is not only Whites who practice exploitation. There are Blacks who are more ready to exploit than Whites. We want our people to rise and advance.’ – Cabral.

Acknowledged as an “unapologetic feminist”, Khoza spoke strongly about patriarchy, quoting Cabral on the role of women in the “service of our people”.

Khoza emphasised the importance of ‘putting people first, before political ambitions, self-interest and greed’. She said: ‘We need to stop romanticising Africanism. We must be brutally honest with ourselves if we are to emerge as victors.’

She criticised a “culture of laziness” and in a hard-hitting statement, said: ‘There can be no prosperity, there can be no reconciliation, if the State continues to reduce and trap Black Africans in particular, in the vicious inter-generational net of poverty, inequality and unemployment.’

Looking at the highly topical land debate, Mnguni said land dispossession predated 19 June, 1913. At present, restitution involved claims dating back to 1913. Mnguni questioned whether there was a ‘compelling vision, political will and sovereign ability to eradicate our country’s fundamental problems’.

He said the ‘vestiges of apartheid remain intact,’ and slated racism and patriarchy in South Africa. ‘Men of all races have resisted the transformative agenda of gender relations.’

Archer-Ngidi dedicated her speech to Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, who she referred to as “our Mandela”, and encouraged students to read the writings of Kwame Nkrumah, a former President of Ghana and a noted revolutionary.

She questioned the process of reconciliation in South Africa, saying ‘after 350 years of violence, where are the healing centres for what apartheid has done?’

Members of the audience raised pertinent questions surrounding the land debate, the fourth revolution, Africology and westernisation.

KwaZulu-Natal co-ordinator of the Mandela Rhodes Community Mr Suntosh Pillay encouraged the audience to have discussions on matters affecting society. ‘Conversations precede all forms of action,’ said Pillay. Quoting Oxford scholar and historian, Theodore Zeldin, he encouraged the audience to carry the “conversational revolution” forward by talking to one another about the topic discussed at this year’s Conversations for Change.

  • Conversations for Change is a series of critical public debates which take place in cities across southern Africa. The conversations encourage robust, interactive and thought-provoking public dialogue on socially relevant issues. Previous themes include: I’m Not Racist, but …; Can we Really Decolonise Africa; and Ethical leadership: Have we lost the plot.

Words: Raylene Captain-Hasthibeer

Photograph: Albert Hirasen