Visit to South Africa, Part Two


28 March, 2010

At the end of a two-week visit to South Africa, Professor Rajmohan Gandhi delivered a Vice-Chancellor's Open lecture at the University of Cape Town, calling for 'a coalition of conscience' within countries and across the world to confront 'the real enemies... of hate, fear and greed'.

A report and link to audio of the speech were posted by the University. (http://www.uct.ac.za/downloads/uct.ac.za/news/multimedia/audio/Rajmohan_...) Rob Lancaster, one of the team accompanying Professor and Mrs Gandhi, gives a wrap-up story on their South African encounters, before travelling onto Kenya where they were received by the Prime Minister and Vice President.

In 1952, Nelson Mandela made the bold assertion that he would be the first black President of a free South Africa. 1995, more than 40 years later, delivered an emphatic realization of that vision.

Yet in 2010, his country faces enormous challenges; unemployment, violent crime, HIV/AIDS and service delivery as a whole. As the Voyage of Dialogue and Discovery moved into its second week in South Africa, these confronting realities were apparent, as was the vision that a new wave of leadership is offering.

F W de Klerk was central to the dismantling of the apartheid regime, and has continued his commitment to the Constitution that was thereby created, laying the framework for a free South Africa. During the week in Cape Town, the Voyage team had the opportunity to meet with several representatives of the F W de Klerk Foundation who, while realistic about the challenges, offered clear perspectives on the ways in which the foundations of democracy can be strengthened in South Africa.

Professor Gandhi commented that, from his observations and discussions in the country, although people may ‘no longer be separated by law, they are often still separated by location, circumstances and fear.’ It was a sentiment echoed by Portia Mosia, a programme developer for Creators of Peace in South Africa, who strongly underlined the need for bridges to be built between the leaders and the led: ‘As a young person from Soweto, if it weren’t for this opportunity today to join Professor Gandhi’s visit, how would I know about this office and the work of this Foundation’?

Bridges across different divides are being built and in a variety of ways. The team met with Ginn Fourie and Letlapa Mphahlele for lunch in a clattering Indian restaurant in Cape Town. Ginn is the mother of Lyndie Fourie, who at age 26 was killed in attack on the Heidelberg Tavern in 1993, an attack ordered by Letlapa, then a commander in the Azanian People's Liberation Army (APLA), the military wing of the PAC. The ongoing experience of forgiveness at the centre of their story is rare, and not just in South Africa. (For more visit the blog, and Ginn and Letlapa's story.

Currently dividing South Africa is the gap between rich and poor, the concern of an organic farming enterprise on the outskirts of Phillippi, which the Voyage team visited. With a strong emphasis on fostering semi-commercial enterprise – to address the high failure rate among so many subsistence cultivators who are encouraged to make the leap directly to full commercial operations, often with disastrous consequences – at Phillippi they have created a sustainable, profitable operation.

Even from the relatively cursory exposure over the two weeks in South Africa, the historical roots of the current challenges are manifest: from the Voortrekker Monument and the interaction with the Afrikaner Bond in the first week, to the visit to Slave Lodge in Cape Town, which included an powerful exhibit tracing Mandela's journey, and the time on Robben Island. With all this in mind, Gandhi underlined on several occasions that the significance of what was achieved through the 1990s should not be underestimated, and remains a platform for tackling today's questions.

In response to recurring questions on the question of leadership, including with audiences at both the University of Cape Town and the University of Western Cape, Gandhi reflected on the nature of leadership as it evolves in the context of an independence movement. Pre-independence, there is often a powerful unity, and necessarily so, around the vision for an independent state. That foundational goal achieved, however, the erstwhile leaders of the pro-indpendence movement find themselves in a position of power vis-à-vis a whole state, and a new dynamic between the leaders and the led must be defined. It can be a time-consuming process, but the ‘payback’ period – where loyalty has primacy over competency in the allocation of roles – must eventually come to an end and leaders must honestly ask themselves, 'who are my people?' In this vein, Mandela's principles transcended racial barriers, and his resolve was firm. Speaking from the dock at the 'Rivola Trial' in Pretoria in 1964, he affirmed: 'I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.'

Bishop Dandala, Parliamentary Leader of the Congress of the People (COPE), posed a question as central as any other, during a meeting with the Voyage team: ‘How to remain incorruptible, once we have the power not to be?’ COPE has articulated a platform where values take centre stage, and Bishop Dandala is adamant that ‘we cannot ignore the centrality of morality in nation-building’.

They face an uphill battle, both to model their values internally as well as to promote value-consciousness as a basis for governance in South Africa.