Narrow definitions, power imbalances, and a lack of empathy are hampering meaningful transformation which has not been achieved in South Africa despite 21 years of democracy.

This was the consensus of a panel discussion at the annual leadership dinner of the South Africa-Washington International Program (SAWIP) on the 10th of September, attended by over 100 members and invited guests.

Panellists cited university movements such as “Rhodes Must Fall” at the University of Cape Town as well as “Open Stellenbosch” and “Luister” at Stellenbosch University as examples of the fact that transformation in South Africa has not been as wide-reaching as it needs to be.

Discussion

SAWIP, founded in 2007, is a program recruiting high-potential university students active in community development and committed to forming and building South Africa to achieve broad-based justice and enduring peace. To date there are 123 SAWIP alumni.

The panel comprised political commentator and newspaper columnist, Justice Malala; the CEO of the South Africa National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI), Tanya Abrahamse; entrepreneur and businessman, MacKay Bundwini; and SAWIP alumni Brynne Guthrie (final year law student at the University of Pretoria), Nolo Mokoena (final year economics student at the University of Pretoria), and Vivek Ramsaroop (corporate attorney at Bowman Gilfillan). The panel discussion was moderated by Chantell Ilbury, a scenario strategist, facilitator, speaker, and business author.

“Transformation metrics should be broad”, said Justice Malala. His fellow panellists agreed that transformation cannot be confined to a single metric, and that discussions about transformation tend to be too narrowly focused.

Nolo Mokoena said the discussion about transformation “should not exclude the youth”. His fellow SAWIP alumnus Vivek Ramsaroop delved deeper when he said the contribution of youth to the transformation agenda should not be trivialised on account of their age.

MacKay Bundwini described transformation as a multi-dimensional process that involves the mobilisation of a wide-range of resources to address a myriad of issues with the aim of achieving certain outcomes. He noted that there are different views about what the outcomes should be.

Tanya Abrahamse stressed that transformation interventions, such as BEE Scorecards and the Mining Charter, are important instruments; but not the only tool that should be employed to drive transformation. SAWIP alumnus Vivek Ramsaroop noted that transformation interventions, like BEE, have created the space for more meaningful and critical debates about transformation to be had.

Referring to the university movements,  SAWIP alumna Brynne Guthrie noted that they highlight that transformation can be fast-tracked when a critical mass champions the transformation agenda.

Tanya Abrahamse stressed that the “kernel of transformation lies in seeing each other as human beings”. She asked: “Why do we always see each other as ‘the other’”?

This point was emphasised by Dr Imtiaz Sooliman, the Founder, Director, and Chairman of Gift of the Givers, who received the SAWIP Leadership and Service Award at the function.  “It’s not about white and black; it’s about compassion,” he said.

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