I slept with great difficulty on Tuesday night. I kept on thinking about the interactive dialogue we had had at the District Six Homecoming Centre early in the evening. Some of the issues raised were very intense and worrying, but what made them special was the way in which they were raised. We were just a group of South Africans who love our country and who want it to succeed.
The topic of discussion at the event – which was co-hosted by the Community Chest of the Western Cape, the District Six Museum and the One City, Many Cultures Project – was The South Africa We All Want To Live In and, from the first contribution, I knew we were going to have a special conversation.
At these dialogues, we turn the traditional panel discussion on its head, starting with a discussion from the floor before inviting a few respondents to comment.
The first contribution was from a Manenberg father who is worried about the safety of his daughters in a crime-ridden community. The desperation in his voice showed how much he is affected by this situation. Most of us, irrespective of political affiliation, want the same things in life: we want opportunities for ourselves and our children and we want safety and security for our families.
After he spoke, the father, who did not want to be identified, said he needed to leave because he had to take public transport home, when someone in the audience offered to give him a lift home so that he would not have to miss the rest of the dialogue. It showed that, in every situation, one can always find good people.
One of the other impassionate contributions came from a student at CPUT who spoke about the hell of living in Khayelitsha. “I feel safe here now, but I will have to return to Khayelitsha afterwards where I will not be safe,” he said.
One of the rules of these dialogues is that people are not invited based on political affiliation. We have learned from bitter experience that, when people trumpet their political party agenda, it interferes with their ability to engage with others in a constructive dialogue.
But a young man from the Black First Land First movement delivered probably one of the most moving contributions of the evening, asking why the gangland killings on the Cape Flats are not described as a genocide and are not seen as a crisis.
But he spoke in the way we have become used to at these dialogues, not pushing the agenda of the political party he supports.
Crime was not the only issue raised. Other topics included the process of changing the name of what is currently known as Zonnebloem back to District Six, the lack of job creation and the need for entrepreneurship training, the worrying state of the South African economy, the public transport crisis in the Western Cape, the state of NGOs and the role that they should be playing to keep government to account, the marginalisation of young people in our society, the need to improve our education system, drug abuse particularly on the Cape Flats, among many others.
There were also some contributions from people who described themselves as “part of the elite who have no idea what most South Africans are experiencing on a daily basis”.
The overwhelming feeling at this dialogue, which was the final one in a series that started in January, was that we cannot depend on government to do everything for us. South Africans have to take their future in their own hands.
As someone said, “We should not only talk about the South Africa we want to live in, we should all start building it today.”
In the end, I felt hopeful that, despite the many problems we face in our society, there is hope that we will be able to pull through. We defeated apartheid. We can defeat anything else that is thrown at us. But we can only do that if we stand together and we look at the potential contribution that people can make, despite their backgrounds, history and political affiliation.
The contributions made at all the dialogues will be published in a special book, which should come out in the next few months. Our aim is to make sure that everyone in some position of influence has a copy, so that they can understand people are saying about the country in which they want to live.