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AKF Wits Society launched

- By Kemantha Govender

The Ahmed Kathrada Foundation (AKF) has launched its first university chapter, the AKF Wits Society on 30 July 2015 to promote the work of non-racialism among the youth.

Anti-apartheid activist and Rivonia trialist, Ahmed Kathrada; Director of the Wits Centre for Diversity Studies, Professor Melissa Steyn; activist and youth leader, Shaka Sisulu; and acting Student Representative Council President, Shaeera Kalla launched the society. 

Kathrada opted to answer questions rather than make a speech, advancing his belief podium speeches should give way to meaningful dialogue. He reiterated that it is vital to have discussions on pertinent issues such as non-racialism, transformation and growth and in South Africa.

In a question posed by student on inequality in the country, Kathrada said South Africa has made significant progress in creating a non-racial society. For instance, he noted that heads of universities come from diverse backgrounds and campuses comprise of diverse communities.  

However, he acknowledged that socio-economic challenges still persist.

“There is a great gap between the rich and the poor, the majority of our people are still poor. Large numbers of people are still living on aid provided by the government. We must remember that while 20 years in the life of a nation is not much, we have done quite a lot in the 20 years,” said Kathrada.

Taking the lead

Meanwhile, Sisulu said South Africans need to address racism and discrimination despite how uncomfortable the subject might be for some.

“South Africa has the potential to lead the rest of the world in figuring out how racial relations should work. As we build a truly non-racial society the world will come and take notes and examples of how we have done it,” he said.

 “Race is very uncomfortable for many us, especially those that are privileged because when we address the things that were done in the name of race, we have to address how we have benefitted and continue to benefit. 

“Don’t let people’s discomfort with discussing race stand between us and building a non-racial society. Don’t let your parents’ ideas of race which were formed in the cauldron of apartheid be the benchmark for how we want to live our lives and what we teach our kids,” Sisulu said.

He said a new path must be charted and he expects this new society to give a voice to people being shamed because of their race.

The student society is set to contribute towards dialogue on key issues involving various forms of discrimination and division amongst students and staff at the university. It will also engage in awareness programmes and campaigns that promote tolerance and understanding of diversity and non-racialism.

“Our vision, as AKF Wits, is to play a catalytic role in the creation of a truly transformative and socially cohesive university. Our primary aim is to deepen non-racialism at Wits by creating student awareness and activism that transcends racial lines,” said Nhlanhla Nkosi, interim chairperson of the society. Nkosi, a Wits student, is also a product of the Foundation’s Youth Leadership Programme.

“We will engage individuals, clubs, societies, organisations and bodies at Wits University in research and educational activities that increase understanding of the importance of non-racialism, non-sexism, economic justice, and democracy at Wits and in South Africa.”