David Miliband MP: democracy needs participation to work

Democracy has never been more popular in the world – yet it has never been a greater subject of disaffection in those countries where it has been in use the longest.

David Miliband MP speaking at the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory

So said British Labour MP David Miliband during a dialogue hosted today, Human Rights Day, at the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory in Houghton, Johannesburg. The topic of the dialogue was “How to make a difference in democratic politics”.

Before Mr Miliband, a former Foreign Secretary (and one of the youngest to ever hold the post), spoke, the audience was invited to open the dialogue by expressing views on the subject.

“If we want to make a difference in politics, we need an active citizenry,” said one man, who disputed the notion that participation in democratic processes meant voting every five years.

“I think a lot of people think society is changed by big men and women – but it’s actually ordinary people,” he added.

Another audience member said she was puzzled about how democracy is retained as times change, and she believed the challenge was to keep young people engaged in democratic processes “so that we reach our long-term vision”.

A third agreed that it is “key” for young South Africans to be involved in democratic politics, or they cannot complain in the future about how matters have turned out.

“Let’s own the future, let’s use social media, and let’s not always defer to our elders,” he declared.

“Our greatest misfortune is not inequality, but dependence,” said another, who deplored the fact that young South Africans “are always complaining”.

“If we as young people abandon this culture of entitlement, then we have a lot ahead of us,” he said.

The final opinion expressed, by a Mandela Rhodes scholar in the audience, was that South Africans have to “look specifically at participation” in democratic politics, which then give democratic structures legitimacy and open them up to accountability. Making a difference in politics does not reside with political parties and government alone, he asserted.

Mr Miliband spoke of the “paradox of the democratic process”, in that it is currently at the height of its global popularity – yet is under fire in some of the world’s oldest democracies, where people feel frustrated.

“Democracy has never been more popular in the world. We’re now looking at 80% of the world’s population being more or less democratic. It’s an historic moment for a movement that’s been 200 years in the making,” he said.

“On the other hand, it’s never been a greater subject of disaffection in the countries where it’s been used the most.”

This disaffection in Britain stemmed, he believed, from a centralised political system that disempowers people, a mismatch between people’s expectations and what is delivered, the disappearance of class and ideological differences between parties, and that confidence in the political system has been undermined by the recent scandal around MPs’ expenses.

Mr Miliband highlighted five points, which he felt are necessary for democracy to make a difference:

• Take action: “The only way to create hope is to take action … a small action will create more hope than big rhetoric,” said Mr Miliband, adding: “When small things don’t get done, then people don’t believe the big things will get done”
• Every political campaign “needs an argument rather than an assertion”: Mr Miliband argued that it is critical for politicians to take their opponents’ stance seriously, or risk weakening their own
• Communication “is the essence of politics”: societies, even repressive ones, are more open than ever, and good communications is critical, said Mr Miliband. He averred that debate and conflict are good, as they stimulate strong solutions – often better than if parties were in total agreement
• Legislation “means nothing unless you have a coalition to support it”: in other words, democracy rests on the coalition of government leadership, business innovation and mass mobilisation. Too much emphasis is placed on government policymaking, and too little on this relationship
• Leadership: someone once told him, Mr Miliband said, that “leadership is the stories that people tell about you” – how they express their perception of one. Leadership is about learning to listen, and “it’s also about doing what you say”

Democratic politics is “a tough and brutal game” – but it needs the participation of all sectors of society, or it will fail, Mr Miliband argued.

In thanking Mr Miliband for his participation in the dialogue, Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory CEO Achmat Dangor stated that he was guided by the ideas of two South Africans.

The late Steve Biko had pointed out that Black Consciousness was not an end in itself, but a path to something else; and Madiba himself had said of dialogues such as this one: “What you have to do is bring together people who disagree.”

Facing the largely youthful audience, Mr Dangor concluded: “It’s in your hands – remember that.”

Madiba is to spend Christmas in hospital: issued by the Presidency

Former President Nelson Mandela will spend Christmas Day in hospital, his doctors have confirmed today, on 24 December 2012.

President Mandela has been in a Pretoria hospital since the 8th of December and doctors say he continues to respond to treatment.

President Zuma said the whole nation was behind Madiba during this difficult period. “Knowledge of the love and support of his people keeps him strong. Therefore, we urge all South Africans to keep Tata uppermost in their thoughts at every place of worship or entertainment tomorrow on Christmas Day, and throughout the festive season. We also humbly invite all freedom-loving people around the world to pray for him. He is an ardent fighter and will recover from this episode with all our support,” said President Zuma.

The President also wished the Mandela family strength and assured them of the support of government and all the people of South Africa, who “love Madiba dearly”.

Enquiries: Mac Maharaj on 079 879 3203 or Harold Maloka on 082 847 9799.

Issued by: The Presidency

Update on former President Mandela: issued by the Presidency

President Jacob Zuma this morning, 22 December 2012, visited former President Nelson Mandela in hospital in Pretoria.

Madiba has been in hospital since 8 December 2012 and continues to respond to treatment.

President Zuma assured him of the love and support of all South Africans, young and old, and the whole world.

“We urge South Africans to continue praying for our beloved Madiba during this period. Our hearts are with the whole family and relatives,” said President Zuma.

Enquiries: Mac Maharaj on +27 (0)79 879 3203.

Issued by: The Presidency, Pretoria

Doctors keep Madiba in hospital for extra care: issued by the Presidency

Today is Day 11 of former President Nelson Mandela’s hospitalisation.

Doctors are still attending to him following an operation to remove gallstones.

“Doctors are satisfied that the progress he is making is consistent with his age. They say there is no crisis, but add that they are in no hurry to send him home just yet until they are satisfied that he has made sufficient progress. We urge the public to continue supporting Madiba, but at the same time to understand that he is 94 years old and needs extra-ordinary care. If he spends more days in hospital, it is because that necessary care is being provided. We wish the family strength during this period. They have the love and support of the whole nation,” said President Zuma.

Presidential Spokesperson Mr Mac Maharaj went to see former President Mandela today. “He is looking much better,” said Mr Maharaj, adding that Madiba immediately asked: “Mac what are you doing here”?

“I asked him not give doctors any trouble,” said Mr Maharaj.

Enquiries: Mac Maharaj on 079 879 3203.

Issued by: The Presidency

Update on former President Mandela: issued by the Presidency

The Presidency wishes to provide the following update from the doctors treating former President Nelson Mandela:

The former President was hospitalised on 8 December 2012 for a series of tests to be carried out by the doctors. The tests revealed that there was a recurrence of a lung infection and that Madiba had developed gallstones. The medical team decided to attend to the lung infection before determining when to attend to the gallstones.

This morning, 15 December 2012, the former president underwent a procedure via endoscopy to have the gallstones removed. The procedure was successful and Madiba is recovering.

President Jacob Zuma, on behalf of all South Africans, wishes Madiba speedy recovery.

We wish to once again appeal for privacy for Madiba and family.

Enquiries: Mac Maharaj on 079 879 3203.

Issued by the Presidency

CEO’s year-end message

Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory Chief Executive Achmat Dangor

Dear Friends

As we reach the end of a very eventful year, we would like to thank all of you for your friendship and support. This was demonstrated by the outpouring of sympathy, and the tributes that followed our Chairperson, Professor Jakes Gerwel’s passing last month. We see it again in the numerous messages wishing our Founder, Nelson Mandela, well during his stay in hospital.

2012 has been a crucial year in the development of the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory. The refurbishing of the Centre’s building in Houghton, Johannesburg commenced earlier this year and will be completed by April 2013. The Centre will have state-of-the-art archival facilities capable of effectively preserving the truly historical personal archive that Madiba entrusted to the Centre, and be a safe space for dialogues around critical social issues. In the coming years the Centre’s dialogue programme will seek to stimulate solution-oriented debate around the theme of “building social cohesion”. The refurbishing will also facilitate increased public access.

“Reading rooms” will be created where the archives can be accessed via computers, and a permanent exhibition on the “life and times of Nelson Mandela” installed. We in particular hope to reach out to young people, arranging visits by learners, university students, etc. We want once more to thank the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund for the generous grant that made this transformative refurbishment possible.

Our dialogue programme will strive to ensure that our society, in its transition, finds ways of overcoming the alienation inherent to our divided past. The Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory will continue to be a platform where people with different, and even polarised, views can openly debate such issues. The Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture will continue to be a high point of the dialogue programme. Details about the date, venue and speaker will be sent out early in 2013. The Nelson Mandela Day Campaign, co-ordinated from the Centre, will once more work with all kinds of stakeholders in order to empower communities to take charge of their own destinies. Remember to make every day a Mandela Day!

Once again, thank you for your support and we know that you will be walking with us on the long journey ahead, as we promote Nelson Mandela’s legacy.

Safe and happy holidays to you and your family

Achmat Dangor, Chief Executive


Students who love to read inspire opening of Mandela Day library at North West school

Friday 30 November marked the opening of the 21st Mandela Day Container Library at Kebinelang Middle School in Manthe village (near Hartswater), in the North West province, five hours west of Johannesburg.

The long drive didn’t deter representatives from container library sponsors BLA, Standard Bank and Puo Publishing, who together with community members and learners gathered in the marquee and eagerly anticipated the opening ceremony.

It was clear for all to see that the container library had been awarded to a deserving school. The school’s Soul Buddyz reading club, wearing their bibs and outfits, assembled outside the library proudly, undeterred by vicious whirlwinds that swirled within the school grounds. Learners then welcomed guests with a passionate performance of song and dance.

Click here if you would like to read the rest of this news article on the Mandela Day website.

Statement from the Centre of Memory regarding appointment of Acting Chairperson

We join Professor Jakes Gerwel’s family, and indeed our country, in mourning his passing.

As Chair of the Board of the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, his wise counsel helped guide the organisation through a complex transition to an archival and dialogue institution that pursues social justice.

The Board of Trustees has appointed Professor Njabulo Ndebele as Acting Chairperson.

Prof Ndebele is a renowned academic, writer and thinker.

His experience will help provide continuity, and together with other Board members, ensure that we achieve our objective of becoming a world-class “memory” institution that will stay true to the ethos and legacy of its Founder, Mr Nelson Mandela.

Statement from former President Thabo Mbeki on the passing of Prof Jakes Gerwel

Prof Gerwel welcomed guests to the 2012 Annual Lecture earlier this year

Former President Thabo Mbeki and his wife Zanele have learnt with profound sadness of the passing away of Professor Jakes Gerwel, whom they considered a valued comrade and friend.

The former President described Professor Gerwel as an outstanding South African who contributed to the country in a wide variety of fields, including literature, academia, politics, government, business and sport, particularly cricket, while remaining always very humble and self-effacing.

He said he first got to know Professor Gerwel when the latter was “the distinguished Vice Chancellor of the University of the Western Cape, in which capacity he made an enormous contribution to position the UWC as what he called ‘the home of the left’, as well as transform the university into a non-racial institution.”

“He therefore stood in the front ranks of those who helped to transform our centres of higher education into institutions which would use their concentrated brain power to contribute to the transformation of our country into a non-racial and non-sexist democracy.”

The former President expressed the hope that “the South African academy will honour the memory of Jakes Gerwel by building on the progressive tradition he established.”

As the first Director General in President Nelson Mandela’s office, Prof Gerwel can correctly be described as a pathfinder and Dean of the post apartheid civil service. Said former President Mbeki: “With his wealth of experience, commitment and selfless dedication to public service, Prof Gerwel still had much to offer our country and people.”

Former President Mbeki said the young cadre of today’s civil servants need to study the lives of people such as Prof Gerwel to draw appropriate lessons in addressing the challenges of the civil service and the masses of the people it is meant to serve.

The former President conveyed his and his wife’s heartfelt condolences to Jakes’ dear wife Phoebe, their children, and the rest of the Gerwel family.

For more information please contact Mukoni Ratshitanga on +27 (0)82 300 3447.

Centre of Memory facilitates dialogue on Africa-European economic relations

Africa-European economic relations and the challenge of overcoming financial and political alienation was the focus of a dialogue facilitated by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory in partnership with Brand South Africa.

Titled ‘Africa European economic relations, from alienation to co-operation’, the dialogue was held on 6 November at the Glenhove Conference Centre in Johannesburg. Finnish Minister of European Affairs and Foreign Trade, Dr. Alex Stubb lead the open panel conversation, and engaged the audience on topics such as foreign aid policy, Africa and Europe’s development challenges and political and economic alienation.

Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory Chief Executive Achmat Dangor said the Centre of Memory prides itself as being a “safe space for open discussion”.

“Madiba told us that there’s no point in bringing together people who agree with each other – rather bring together those who disagree,” he said, encouraging all present to take part in real conversation.

Dangor spoke of the Centre of Memory’s intention to initiate a series of dialogues in 2013 around political and information estrangement and economic isolation.

The Master of Ceremonies for the event, Dr. Petrus de Kock from Brand South Africa, introduced Dr. Stubb, who illustrated what he called, “political tectonic shifts”, “three mega-trends” in world politics.

“Post World War II the political world can best be described as bipolar, with the Soviet Union on one end of the political scale and the liberal democracy of the west on the other. The end of Cold War in 1989, with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union, signified the birth of a new world political era, a unipolar system driven by the US,” he said.

“The third phase of world politics started four years ago, with the election of Barack Obama as President of US. A multi-polar political sphere emerged, along with diverse political extremities and views.”

Dr. Petrus de Kock form Brand South Africa (left), Dr. Alex Stubb and Cenrte of Memory CEO Achmat Dangor (far right)

Dr. Stubb questioned the concept of political arrogance, asking whether dictated monologues, as opposed to dignified dialogue, will persist in a western-dominated world.

What is required is a new approach to foreign policy, he added, where we learn, produce and process together.

He said Europe has faced regional integration in an economic crisis in the last four years.

“While the European Union (EU) pillars of peace, prosperity, security and stability remain entrenched, in the face of economic strain the cleavage between the north and the south of Europe has grown and countries now face a crisis of confidence and don’t trust each other any more. On the bright side the European Central Bank has intervened in secondary bond markets, which driven down interest rates in Spain, Ireland, Portugal and Italy,” he said.

“In addition the establishment of an European Commission Banking Union and the European Stability Mechanism, a crisis management fund that helps countries in financial distress, are positive signs for Europe,” he added.

Is dignified foreign policy possible?

In linking Africa and Europe and the notion of a dignified platform for foreign policy, Dangor insisted that European and African relations be viewed in context.

“Demographic studies in Africa show that the population in Europe is aging, yet the population is Africa is growing younger. Within the next 10 years, up to 60% of the population in Africa will be young people. The youth of this continent hold the future in their hands, literally. We need to invest in the youth, not alienate them,” he said.

Dangor asked how Europe can adapt its relationship with Africa from one that is paternalistic and conditional to one that facilitates real investment in the youth and their communities. And how can Africa help create an environment that enables direct investment into communities, he asked.

Numerous points were raised and debated by members of the audience

Members of the audience take part in the dialogue

“The foreign policy model is interventionist when it comes to funding,” said one participant. “There is also a lack of project management and financial management capacity in local government to manage foreign aid.”

“Should development aid be micro-managed by private institutions or should it be a government-to-government type transaction,” asked a member of the audience.

“Is China’s involvement in Africa a threat or a blessing,” asked another. “Is China exploiting Africa’s resources, and is foreign aid conditional?”

“How can the African youth demonstrate their capability to become the leaders of tomorrow in an environment of continental conflict that is characterised by flawed leadership?” Asked a dialogue participant.

“Development aid has been used as a political tool more than a development tool,” said another. “It has removed the onus off the African to take charge and create his or her own destiny and take their rightful place in the League of Nations.”

“Trade, not aid,” argued one participant, adding that when we approach diplomacy there is a gap in understanding culture and relations that are not just political or economic, but cultural.

“The rules of engagement have to change,” stated one participant. “How do we build an economy that works for Africa and its trading partners?”

Another participant said that aid cripples Africans. “As Africans if we know help is coming, we won’t work as hard to achieve something as when there is no hope of help. We want to see more education investment, rather than aid.”

Dr. Stubb said foreign aid and corruption bring about problems with conditionality, and the donor in the middle gets ‘squashed’. In closing he asked, “How can dignified foreign policy work when states are influenced by their self-interest?”

It’s in our hands

In wrapping up the dialogue event, Dangor spoke about Africa taking responsibility for itself.

“In the ‘80s in response to the calls for disinvestment in Africa, the European Union created a special programme for the victims of apartheid. Instead of conventional welfare, they struck an agreement with a coalition of South African organisations – including churches, liberal groups and learning institutions – to facilitate real upliftment and the channeling of funds into communities by investing in existing infrastructure,” he said.

“The concept of the African stokvel needs to be embraced,” he said, describing a South African community-driven small-scale investment plan. “We need to create an enabling environment where investment can be accounted for and measured. It’s up to ordinary Africans, to help each other to help themselves,” he added.

Participants of the dialogue were then invited to continue the conversation online. To view comments and interactions please follow on Twitter.