Author: Charl Linde
Nine youth leaders from Stellenbosch University (SU) recently shared their experiences with the university community after travelling to the Nelson Mandela Museum in Mthatha and Qunu, the birthplace of Madiba, during the winter recess to meet with other young leaders from Walter Sisulu University (WSU). The visit was a collaborative project between the Transformation Office and the FVZS Institute, and formed part of the #SAYouth100 campaign. Students primarily reflected on how histories, visions, languages and challenges shaped institutional cultures and leadership practices at both institutions, and how these practices could be transformed to deepen democracy.
Upon their departure, SU’s Senior Director: Social Impact and Transformation, Dr Leslie van Rooi, encouraged the students not to approach the visit as SU representatives, but rather as South Africans. The students took this to heart and captured their experiences throughout the journey in a documentary, which includes voice-note reflections, cellphone footage and original film shot by one of the participants, Gideon Basson. At a special screening of the documentary as part of the FVZS Leadership Institute Discourse Café series on 26 July, the ‘Qunu 9’ shared their stories. Some reflected on the role of former President Mandela and his values in society today. Others spoke about their personal interactions with the WSU students – to some, suddenly being in the minority during the visit was an alien feeling, while other participants experienced the same when arriving in Stellenbosch. Further discussions centred on leadership issues, inter alia why there is a culture of collective leadership at WSU, though such an individualistic student leadership culture at SU, the challenges associated with each, and what this means for students who rely on these structures to have their voices heard.
After the documentary screening and reflections by the participants, audience members were afforded the opportunity to ask questions. Important and sometimes difficult issues were raised. For example, audience members questioned why the students had visited Qunu and not Kayamandi. Participants debated this – to some, the very rationale behind the visit was to remove the group from the Western Cape and send them somewhere where SU was not a dominant force in the community. Other questions focused on the way in which Madiba is represented today: Do we see only one side of him? Where is Mandela the freedom fighter? Why is Winnie Mandela so often omitted from the conversation about Nelson Mandela’s life, not to mention the conversation about the anti-apartheid struggle? As events drew to a close at the SU Museum, a number of students and participants moved the discussion to the Transformation Office and continued the debate well into the evening, covering a diverse range of topics arising from the Qunu trip.
SU hopes that this dialogue between the institutions will result in broader collaborative projects in the leadership field, as well as further, similar projects with other universities across South Africa. The Transformation Office would also like to remind students of the ongoing Let’s Share series, which invites students to visit the Transformation Office every Friday during lunchtime to raise any issue in a space conducive to unrestrained conversation.