I recently attended Daily Maverick’s, ‘The Gathering Conference’, as part of Open Society Foundation South Africa’s cohort of young leaders. The conference brought together South Africa’s politicians, media, and people to participate in discussions about the upcoming elections; the state of the country and the future.
I had found myself greatly anticipating the political panel, because being a discussion about elections; I expected that party leaders present would seek to speak to me for some reason. This was not to be.
Particularly disappointing was Mamphela Ramphele, who was rewarded with an impressive applause. She came to the front and spoke in a very precise and passionate way about why she was fighting. “I find myself, at 67 years of age, having made my contribution, having to step back into the breach to save our freedom and preserve our dignity”, said Ramphele which left me deeply disturbed, as I do not believe that the country needs another messiah. There is no individual who can or should attempt to ‘save’ us. She went on to tell us about what the ANC had done wrong, delivering serious blows whilst at it, but she failed to communicate to me how Agang reflected my aspirations or what they would do to correct those wrongs. All in all, I felt that Agang wanted me to vote for them for no other reason than to get rid of the ANC which to me isn’t enough reason to get my vote.
Following their presentations, Gigaba, Ramphele, Vavi and Zille, faced some interesting questions from Ranjeni Munusamy, Justice Malala and Richard Poplak.
After lunch, we were shown the trailer of Miners Shot Down, a vivid reminder of what really happened in Marikana. The film’s Director, Rehad Desai, then went on to share his thoughts on the events leading up to the massacre. He reflected on collusion at the top that led to the escalating violence followed by the politics that allowed this to happen. He then went on to share why he believed it important that voters not vote ANC, saying that the party needed to lose power if the intention would ever be to reinvent it.
Activist and writer, Sisonke Msimang however blew me away. She took us through her journey of grief at the loss of love for the ANC, before turning to South African society at large. “We are not exceptional,” she warned. “The danger of exceptionalism is that when a nation becomes exceptional, it becomes star-struck by its own leaders and captured by its exceptionalness, the nation may be fooled into waiting for the next exceptional event to save us”. Msimang went on to moderate the Social Justice panel made up of Vuyiseka Dubula from Sonke Gender Justice; Fatima Hassan from Open Society Foundation and David Lewis from Corruption Watch.
All in all, it was a great and well-organised day with many robust discussions taking place even outside the main venue. But most importantly, it was a day that once again reminded me of the dilemma I will be facing when a ballot is in front of me.
I would imagine that compared to most of the attendees present, I have been rather deeply affected by the failures of government. Despite this instead of the emphasis on what to vote against, I would much rather be talking what we should be voting for; what happens after elections and to just have a truly meaningful engagement about re-imagining and re-creating our communities, our society and ultimately, the country.