28 February 2011

Dialogue Forum: Access to Information and the Making of South African Pasts

On the evening of 24 February 2011 SAHA, in collaboration with the Nelson Mandela Foundation and the Robert Sobukwe Trust, hosted a launch of the Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe exhibition. The exhibition features multimedia content about Robert Sobukwe's life, his legacy and some of his personal artefacts which includes such things as an iron from his incarceration at Robben Island, study material he pored over while at the University of Fort Hare and a schoolbook with the inscription "Remember Africa", which was a continuing theme throughout his life and work.

The event continued the following day with a dialogue forum, also hosted by SAHA and the Nelson Mandela Foundation, in relation to access to information in South Africa. The exhibition and the dialogue forum served to present previously disowned narrations as a very real part of our history in post-apartheid South Africa.

Keynote speaker, Jacob Dlamini, established author and historian, opened the dialogue platform on Thursday evening. Tasked with ‘thinking the unthinkable, mentioning the unmentionable and speaking the unspeakable' Mr Dlamini evoked strong reactions from attendees proposing such contentious ideas as:

  • Given that Apartheid suffered a moral and not a military defeat, was the armed struggle necessary? Answering his own question Dlamini argued that whatever archive one cares to consider, the conclusion that we had no alternative but to kill and die for freedom is not borne out.
  • South African politics have become all about means and ends so that the defining feature of our politics is the pursuit of the good life, a life irreducible to any Human Development Index.
  • Painting Mandela as a hero dehumanises him, dehistoricises him and makes him larger than life while absolving South Africans of the moral responsibility to become better people.

Following from Mr Dlamini's thought provoking speech, presenters the following day considered three topics - ‘the secret', ‘the taboo' and ‘the disavowal'.The issues surrounding 'the secret' were introduced to the audience by the speakers Terry Bell, Jabulani Sithole and Nikiwe Bitshika. The issues surrounding 'the taboo' were introduced to the auidence by speakers Carolyn Hamilton, Mondli Makhanya and Mmatshilo Mostei. And, in the final forum for the day, the issues surrounding 'the disavowal' were introduced to audiences by speakers Kate Skinner and Ndumiso Ngcobo.

Political taboos were a popular topic of the day with presenters articulately identifying the link between political loyalty and economic prosperity - the idea being proposed that support for certain political parties will open avenues to economic gains, whilst to speak out against those same political parties may thwart prospects for economic advancement.

SAHA will now commence the editing of the dialogue forum video footage in readiness for a series of engagements with law, journalism and history students at the University of the Witwatersrand later in the year.


Audience members

Speakers on 'the taboo'

Speaking on 'the taboo' - Frank Meintjies (chair), Mondli Makhanya, Mmatshilo Mostei and Carolyn Hamilton

Speakers on 'the disavowal'

Speaking on 'the disavowal' - Frank Meintjies (chair), Ndumiso Ngcobo and Kate Skinner