Public Solidarity Towards Radical Reform

Today the Nelson Mandela Foundation convened a dialogue on the theme of solidarity towards radical reform as part of its preparation for the 19th Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture. Lwando Xaso of the Constitution Hill Trust facilitated a probing conversation featuring panellists Gloria Serobe, David Harrison and Yaseen Theba.

The dialogue aimed to respond to both deep global structural imperatives and immediate realities in South Africa as the country works to recover from the wave of public violence during July. As horrible as the loss of life and property was in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal, as dismal as the failures of intelligence-gathering and quick security response were, as scary as the moment was for our constitutional democracy, nonetheless, we saw something extraordinary emerge which could be fundamental to the task which lies ahead for our country. On the ground, in so many locations, community members stood up and demonstrated the kind of leadership we so often lack in the higher strata of polity and society. They made peace, they supported law enforcement in protecting infrastructure, they cleaned up, and they are supporting relief and rebuild efforts.

As Foundation Chief Executive Sello Hatang said in his welcome speech: “I have personally visited many of the sites of public violence in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal, and have been moved by the extraordinary creative energy to be found in the midst of desolation. And I have been inspired, again and again, by the demonstration of solidarity as the private sector works with the state and with civil society in confronting what is an enormous challenge.” Later this week Hatang and the Foundation’s Mandela Day team will be back in KwaZulu-Natal working with state, private sector and civil society partners to deliver emergency relief to more of the most vulnerable communities in that province.

Their mission will be guided by Nelson Mandela’s insistence that dignity is at the heart of a liberatory future for South Africa. That principle is enshrined in the country’s Constitution. But the principle is still not expressed in the daily experiences of the great majority of people who call South Africa home. Until it is, we will be reaching for something beyond us.

The rule of law is fundamental to the concept of democracy. Democracy is about dignity. And dignity is about the rules we choose to live by. What makes the rule of law sustainable in our contexts is, precisely, the societal energy and action which the Foundation has encountered and participated in during the last five weeks. If a post-Covid world is going to be liveable for all, then it will have to draw deeply not only on respect for the rule of law and capacity to enforce it, but also on deep-rooted cultures of collective responsibility, solidarity and care. How to build those cultures is a singular challenge in the contexts of the damage Covid has done to economies, social fabrics and human psyches.

Join us at the Annual Lecture to continue the conversation …


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