Maverick Citizen


Joburg Activist Exchange energises a new civil society

Joburg Activist Exchange energises a new civil society
The Activist Exchange brought together more than 600 activists on 9 August in Johannesburg to build capacity, make connections and revive civil society. (Photo: Maru Attwood)

In a much-needed meeting of a broad coalition of South African civil society, the Activist Exchange brought together more than 600 young activists to start a series of campaigns around education, democracy, tech and electoral reform. Through nine workshops, activists built relationships between groups, strengthened their capacity and shared organising strategies to create a ‘South Africa 2.0’.

‘We need people to commit to action and we need to support each other in doing that,” said Tessa Dooms, director of the Rivonia Circle and one of the organisers of the Activist Exchange. 

This attitude of enthusiastic support and readiness to take decisive action to strengthen South Africa’s democracy and animate young people in the fight for justice and equality is what defined the collaborative day’s events.

activist exchange equal education

Activists from Equal Education were among the dozens of civil society groups who shared ideas at the Activist Exchange capacity-building sessions in Braamfontein and Newtown on 9 August. (Photo: Maru Attwood)

On 9 August, Joburg’s CBD was quieter than usual as many commuters stayed home to rest and commemorate Women’s Day. But five locations across the city centre pulsed with the energy of dozens of groups of young activists as they shared ideas and struggles, sang and performed skits, learnt about their rights to protest and defined their visions for a strong South African civil society.  

Workshops were hosted by organisers from 18 civil society groups. Organisers say an especially successful session was hosted by Ahmed Kathrada Foundation Youth and the Democracy Development Programme  called “Youth Participation in Politics and Activism”.

activist exchange rivonia circle

On 9 August, the Activist Exchange, a collaborative effort led by the Rivonia Circle, brought young people together and started campaigns to reinvigorate South African civil society. (Photo: Maru Attwood)

Sixteen-year-old students Osiame Mothupi, Brilliant Sereo and Rethabile Kole were among the 99 young people who left the workshop full of ideas on how to get meaningfully involved in politics and civil society, beyond the narrowly established confines of electoral politics. They explained that they were returning to their Coronationville communities with a renewed enthusiasm for their activism and sharing skills through their youth club known as Slovo Digital Skills Hub. 

“We can be leaders, no matter our age,” Osiame said.

high school activists

High school activists who are part of the youth programme Slovo Digital Skills Hub, joined the Activist Exchange event at Constitution Hill to connect with other young activists and share ideas. (Photo: Maru Attwood)

Each interjecting with a different feature of the kind of country they want to build, the students said they’re creating a South Africa that is peaceful, has no rolling blackouts, is without racism, has eradicated gender-based violence and is a place where everyone is equal in a safe and thriving environment. They were undeterred by being under the voting age after workshopping ways to be active in politics outside voting.

Dooms said this session was successful in getting “young people in South Africa, who are generally considered to be politically apathetic, to see themselves as championing change in the country, both through political formations that are electoral and non-electoral”.  

Read in more Daily Maverick: “New Activist Exchange dares to forge new ways to advance ‘project South Africa’ ”

In five of the sessions, new campaign ideas were initiated to build collective action and reform South African society. 

One of these sessions was a workshop called “Improving Education Through Activism” run by Equal Education and Section 27. During the workshop, activists formed a campaign strategy for “a long-term plan to make sure that the infrastructure issues in the education sector are resolved”. Dooms said an important piece of that will be putting pressure on the Department of Education to revise the provisions in the Basic Education Laws Amendment Bill.

activists mosetlhane nkoeng

Johanna Mosetlhane, left and Bridgette Nkoeng, right are community activists from Ivory Park who participated in an Activist Exchange workshop Improving Education Through Activism at Constitution Hill in Johannesburg. (Photo: Maru Attwood)

Activists from Ivory Park, Johanna Mosetlhane (27) and Bridgette Nkoeng (20) said their participation in the education workshop was a chance to learn about their protections and rights in education. 

Nkoeng, who studies Safety in Society at ROSTEC college in Johannesburg, said the workshop inspired her to find tangible ways to use her activism to make education more inclusive, mainly drawing on strengths from students’ different backgrounds and experiences. Both Mosetlhane and Nkoeng volunteer with Youth Explosion in Ivory Park, a group that they say works to care for the elderly in their community.

Nkoeng emphasised: “You have to support each other. So I think we need to work together as a community and we need to work together as a nation.”

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“Everybody’s going to act locally about the issues and the challenges in their own communities. But we also have to start thinking nationally… we need to think about the things that are outside the single issues that we care about at the local level,” explained Dooms.

A national organisation with a local presence in schools across five provinces, Equal Education (EE) featured prominently at the Activist Exchange.

“My passion is to advocate for equal and quality education in the South African system,” Kagiso Moagi, an activist for EE said. As a mass democratic movement, EE agitates for improved infrastructure, defends the rights of students, combats policies that lead to school segregation and works to make schools more inclusive and democratic.

activist modiselle mkhabela

Fredah Modiselle (left) and Tswelopele Mkhabela (right) are activists with the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation who discussed at the Activist Exchange event in Joburg pathways to get South Africa’s democracy working. (Photo: Maru Attwood)

Equal Education often has to resort to protest to get the attention of the Department of Education, most recently through their #DeadlinesToFixSchools campaign.

So it was especially valuable for Moagi and other EE activists to attend a session called “Know your rights: Mobilising & Protest.” In this session, facilitators from Wits Centre for Applied Legal Studies and Right2Protest equipped activists with an understanding of how to prepare for a legal protest and what protesters’ rights are, especially when interacting with the police.

activist exchange joburg

Activists gathered at the Activist Exchange in Joburg, a collaborative effort to build capacity in South African civil society. (Photo: Maru Attwood)

“People are ready to get involved in the process of changing the country, and they’re no longer willing to wait for government or just the politicians of the day to do that. Everybody has a stake in our democracy.” 

Dooms continued, “There is a deep desire for civil society to have the capacity built, for collaboration and networking and working together, and I think the numbers and people showing up in the ways that they did, really was for us very heartening.” DM/MC


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