Mandela Rhodes Scholars
Mandela Rhodes Scholars

Social transformation: we don’t need permission

This post is in response to the recent Community of Mandela Rhodes Scholars (CMRS) “Conversations for Change” sessions held throughout the country in May. As a platform for constructive interdisciplinary debate and intellectual enquiry, the sessions sought to bring together academic institutions, public intellectuals, social activists, students, and community members with the intention of facilitating dialogue between these different stakeholders. The theme for this year was “The Role of Education and Entrepreneurship in Advancing Social Transformation”. Discussion history can be found on Twitter with the tag #CMRS.

By Andrew Ihsaan Gasnolar

The very nature of a conversation is that it is personal, and even more so when you consider the impact and possibility of transformation in our societies. Being involved in the organising and also attending the Cape Town session of Conversations for Change was indeed a humbling yet rewarding experience.

This session was hosted by the University of the Western Cape and we had the pleasure of joining Brian O’Connell, Rhoda Kadalie, Athambile Masola, Mamphela Ramphele and Trevor Manuel in discussion.

It was indeed wonderful to see a panel not packed with one view, but rather one which was happy to engage with themselves as well as disagree openly. The Cape Town session also embraced the new age and streamed the dialogue live via internet radio (The Taxi Radio) allowing us to delve into the world of the internet and Twitter which are becoming more and more useful tools to further social transformation.

Personally, I am glad that I was able to partake in this vibrant, robust and open dialogue – not a harbinger of bad or good but rather the first step in an open dialogue around matters of importance and a space in which all voices are given credence.

These musings are but my own personal views – not a reflection of a law student or a Mandela Rhodes Scholar or that of a South African but rather the views of a person listening to and engaged in this dialogue. What became clear to me at the Cape Town dialogue was the powerful potential of creating a space where dialogue amongst conflicting views is possible. There may have been heated moments between Trevor Manuel and Rhoda Kadalie for instance but there was indeed a level of honesty between the panellists.

The Community of Mandela Rhodes Scholars’ inaugural topic for the dialogue touches very close to home having grown up in the memories of the shadow of Table Mountain (ie the Cape Flats). Cape Town reminds me of the beauty and possibility of harnessing our natural resources but also the dark legacy of apartheid – with those on the slopes of Table Mountain benefiting from a very different world to those who live on the Cape Flats and townships of this city (the memories of the shadows).

Education is an immensely powerful tool in changing a life – it is the notion that despite the physical circumstances the pursuit of education can transform your very life. Conversations which foster change are just the first step in effecting transformation. It is important to note that action, ingenuity, innovation, determination and a belief that more is possible are tools which take that conversation further.

To cultivate this belief system is often a very difficult tool but what you do need is the collective effort of parents, children, communities, community leaders, religious leaders, all relevant roleplayers within those communities and an environment in which dialogue is always open no matter what your views are.

What I took home from the Cape Town dialogue session was the beauty of having an engaged conversation amongst each other – whether you be an academic, a teacher, a “counter-revolutionary”, a social activist or whether you be part of the ruling elite or someone who has decided to go “back into the trenches”.

The lesson for me personally was that social transformation does not take root in closed rooms or corridors or in intimate dialogue but rather it is a value system which we all need to embrace. It is an ideal founded and furthered by our collective efforts and which we can achieve together. The conversation does not need name-calling or blame but rather to further our idea of transformation in our societies we need the collective effort of many.

I could focus on the musings of our panel but the lesson rather was that transformation in our societies, communities, stokvels, synagogues, schools, universities, neighbourhoods and families can only be furthered by our collective efforts. This resonates with me and reminds me of what former president Nelson Mandela said:

“That heroism is required in even greater measure today; the heroism to build, to learn, to improve skills, and to unite the nation. The future is in your hands. Build it through hard work today.”

Madiba made this call to action on June 16 1996, but those words were not only relevant then – they resonate today not only with the youth of this country but with every single South African who wishes to engage in that conversation of building our nation and realising social transformation in our lifetime.

It is with that context in the background that we as a collective must no longer look towards our elders for solutions but rather we should be bold and willing to question their views. We should engage openly with the idea that this beautiful country we call home contains our collective hopes and aspirations and that future, that change, that possibility of social transformation is a responsibility we all carry and we should boldly continue this Conversation for Change until it is meaningful, engaged and passionately reflects the hopes and aspirations of this great country.
Change does not happen by asking the “elders” permission but rather it starts with all of us actively taking an interest in and participating in our country.

Andrew Ihsaan Gasnolar holds an LLB degree from the University of the Western Cape. He is currently pursuing his masters in law.

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