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Qiniso Dialogues: Will you join us?

By Shaka Sisulu

“Where do I begin?”

This was my first thought when I sat down to pen this reflection on my involvement and experience with the Qiniso Dialogues. It’s a common enough question and so I had an answer at the ready “from the beginning”.

So what is Qiniso? Well, for starters it’s the Zulu word for “truth”. It’s also the latest in a series of forums initiated and spearheaded by the University of Pretoria’s Gordon Institute of Business Science — forums that encourage dialogues across different South African divides.

This one in particular is aimed at young and active South Africans — the emerging leaders from different facets of society be it commerce, academia, public service, politics, civil society or the arts.

It asks “what would the most excellent and enthused of us come up with if we were thrown together past our professional, geographical, economic and historical barriers often enough?”

Actually it asks a number of questions challenging us to think critically about the status quo and where we’d like to go. Qiniso in partnership with the Mail & Guardian seeks five questions that every South African should ask.

As you can well imagine this objective in itself brings about many other questions, most of which have plagued the team behind the initiative, of which I am honoured to be a part of since conception:

* Who should we ask these questions?
* Why should people even bother with this? Should we?
* Is it meaningful? How do we make it so?
* Will this work? Is it just another talkshop?
* What’s wrong with talkshops anyway? Don’t we need more?
* Will people be … real? Honest? Authentic?
* And importantly, what time’s lunch?

As we embark on the third of six single-day events, I reflect on these queries, some of which we’ve managed to answer (the lunch one was surprisingly simple) and some, I suspect, we will be grappling with for some time to come. The tough question of making Qiniso meaningful, for instance, is telling.

On a personal note, reviewing the questions that struck me most in the first and second sessions: “Mara why?” and “What am I going to do to be able to communicate with people in a language they feel comfortable with?” gave me pause to consider the slight paradigm shift that had occurred within me. I loved “Mara why?”. “Mara why this … Mara why that … ?” Nothing encapsulated more my desire to group all the BS beneath a single banner. It’s the kind of question one takes to an altar or tarot reader. It is comical in part, poignant in another and sorrowful all too often but darn catchy. The second question isn’t. But it’s a lot more focused on something that I can do. It is empowering. And gives me the impression that if answered correctly and adequately it could lead to a better quality of life for me and everyone I encounter. It may not be catchy but it certainly is meaningful.

Recently a relative reminded me of an occasion when we both sat with my late grandfather, Walter, who everyone affectionately called Xhamela, our clan name. We questioned nearly everything under the sun, well, everything with regards to the political dispensation. “Why was this happening”, “why wasn’t so and so doing this and that” were the common refrains we bounced between each other while Xhamela looked on silently, the lines of a wry smile beginning to form across his face.

Perhaps we had hoped that with his influence among the governing class, even though he had himself actively retired from politics, he could change the things we were complaining about. Or perhaps we came to him for guidance on how to feel about the matters at hand. Or perhaps we came to him not for real answers but just to vent or even to make a show of caring for our country, perhaps as deeply as we knew he did. I can’t quite recall the motives but I clearly recall the response. When we finally shut up and looked up expectantly at him Xhamela asked simply “So, what are you doing about it?”

I have no doubt that the effective framing of the pertinent questions of a time can bring about pivotal changes to the status quo. Indeed this serves as a fulcrum leveraging focused action into momentous change, such as we have witnessed in key moments in our collective history.

“How do we come together?” led to the consolidation of hereto warring factions in 1910 and 1912, while “what do we want for all of us?” informed the outcomes of the remarkable Congress of the People in 1955.

And “how do we reconcile our differences?” produced a historically unique approach to the resolution of armed and social conflict. Whereas the jury may still be out on whether these questions have been answered completely and adequately, there is no denying the rallying impact they’ve had.

The Qiniso Dialogues seek out the quintessential question of our time, the rallying call that will rouse and compel us to answer not just in thought or in word but in unrelenting action that which will ultimately birth a country and world much better than the one we inherited. I believe this to be meaningful for us all.

So that’s my truth.

My question to you is will you join us.

Nominate yourself or someone you know to be part of the dialogues.

Tags: ,

  • My moment of truth
  • The race of life