News & Media

Examining the illusion of freedom

On 9 March 2023, Unisa’s Chief Albert Luthuli Research Chair hosted a symposium under the theme Women, peace and security as part of the ongoing commemorations of International Women's Day, and also tying in with Unisa’s 150th anniversary commemoration under the theme Reclaiming Africa’s Intellectual Futures.

Some of the attendees and speakers, from left: Prof Siphamandla Zondi, Prof Meahabo Magano, Important Mkhize, Prof Grace Khunou, Prof Puleng LenkaBula, Prof Joel Modiri, Dr Gcina Mhlophe and Prof Puleng Segalo

The symposium served as a follow-up engagement to the 4th Chief Albert Luthuli Research Chair Founders Lecture, which took place on 18 November 2022, where the first lady of the Republic of Namibia, Her Excellency Monica Geingos, presented the keynote address. Geingos highlighted significant topics and issues that needed further deliberation and engagement, which were pursued at the symposium.

In her opening remarks, incumbent of the Chief Albert Luthuli Research Chair, Prof Puleng Segalo, emphasised that South Africans are still trapped in the illusion of freedom, while they are not free. She asked: "What would foot soldiers such as Inkosi Albert Luthuli, who died for the liberation of Africa, say about the continent’s state of affairs?".

In unpacking the overall symposium theme, speakers were invited to reflect on several sub-themes.

Sub-theme 1: Gender equality, women, and youth empowerment

In unpacking this sub-theme, Prof Meahabo Magano argued that Africa's prosperity is being hampered by lack of self-reliance and sustainability. She also highlighted that it is too late to talk about youth empowerment when young people are in the 18-to-19-year age range (and already in institutions of higher learning), and suggested instead that the basic schooling system from Grade R should be "corrected" to focus on creativity, innovation, sustainability and skills development.

Sub-theme 2: The cultural norm of violence

Prof Siphamandla Zondi examined the cultural norm of violence in South Africa, using the poem Finding Freedom by Wadia Samadi as a vivid reminder of what women go through when it comes to violence.

Zondi pointed to how society is part of the voice that perpetuates the violence, as it is due to society's programming and structuring that violent tendencies prevail. In the quest to dismantle what he calls "the schemata", Zondi called for the return to ideas of ubuntu and indigenousness as these are more potent than people realise because they emphasise altering society to "umuntu-ngumuntu"-ngabantu, a reciprocal system of love, care and humanity.

Sub-theme 3: The problematics of gender dynamics on suicide

Prof Grace Khunou revisited the theories of Emile Durkheim and Anthony Giddens as she addressed the impact of gender dynamics on suicide and mental health.

She stated that Durkheim's work adds to the way we think about suicide and that some scholars' readings of women's experiences with suicide are dismissive and oversimplified because of their unidimensional notion of gender.

Khunou claimed that the public evidence we have about suicide is insufficient because it ignores the complexities of gender. To provide a more nuanced reading of suicide in the context of South Africa, Africa and the Diaspora, according to Khunou, we need to take into account how colonialism, apartheid and ongoing colonialism impacts black people differently than white people.

Sub-theme 4: "MaBhengu the fields are calling us": Excavating the life of Nokukhanya Luthuli

Dr Gcina Mhlophe explored the life and memory of Nokukhanya Luthuli through music, poetry, dance, idioms and storytelling. Mhlophe further argued that it is important to incorporate the stories of important women while they are still alive, challenging us to keep their names and legacies alive. She challenged us to pay more attention on commemorating, researching, renaming and celebrating women like MaBhengu.

Sub-theme 5: The role of the youth in community regeneration

Duduzile Dlamini argued that regeneration is a feeling of renewal, the development of new growth within existing places, and the enhancement of a location or a system by making it more effective and proactive.

She offered a proposition that a Youth Imbizo should be held to educate young people and emphasise the value of protecting communities. She also advised young people to follow the advice of Chief Albert Luthuli, who urged them to take lessons from the past, live for the present and have hope for the future.

Sub-theme 6: The elderly occupying leadership positions in the South African government

In his reflection, Prof Joel Modiri enticed everyone by revealing some of the notable leaders' ages, and then discussed different aspects of having senior citizens in leadership positions.

He argued that young people are not being ageist, but rather offended by the under-representation of young and middle-aged persons in positions of state authority. He argued that young people should be policymakers and decision makers. Modiri also cautioned that young people should be wary of flinging rocks and avoiding opportunities to learn from the more senior generation, and that there is a critical need for inclusive intergenerational leadership.

In her closing remarks, the programme director, Lesego Linda Plank, challenged everyone to be like eagles and challenge the status quo. She asserted that the symposium challenged everyone to make a difference, to preserve and care for their communities, and to think about the data they are fed. She highlighted that one of the main points raised was that community members should be brought into academic events, and not come as methodological tools, but co-creators and knowledge producers.  

Plank concluded by indicating that we should stop being silent about the nightmares we are confronted by as a country, and that young or old, we should fight for true emancipation and get rid of the schemata that destroyed and continues to destroy people.

Unisa’s Principal and Vice-Chancellor, Prof Puleng LenkaBula made a surprise appearance at the event and offered a word of support and encouragement. 

Click here to view a recording of the event.


* By Lesego Linda Plank and Professor Puleng Segalo from the Chief Albert Luthuli Research Chair

Publish date: 2023-03-16 00:00:00.0