Is the ANC serious about dialogue?

2012-06-29 11:31

There is little evidence in their policy documents that the ANC and its alliance partners take dialogue among South Africans seriously.

In fact, judging from the language they use, “dialogue” is not really part of the vocabulary of the ANC as it considers improving governance in South Africa, despite President Jacob Zuma’s call for a national dialogue during the ANC’s centenary celebrations earlier this year.

It is not that the ANC does not believe in dialogue. The whole policy conference exercise is in a way an intra-party dialogue – when ANC members talk among themselves.

The only evidence I could find in the text of the policy documents that the ANC does somehow believe in dialogue, was in the policy discussion document on international relations.

Dialogue is mentioned 11 times.One is tempted to conclude that dialogue, as far as the ANC’s official policies are concerned, needs to happen “out there”.

It is something that others have to engage in.

The question therefore is whether the ANC government is really serious about dialogue inside South Africa.

“Of course we do!”, they would say. And it is true that there are indeed many in the ANC who believe in dialogue.

Cosatu, in its 79-page official response to the ANC policy documents, does not mention dialogue once.

The challenge for South Africans is to remind ourselves that we need to practice what we preach.

We cannot preach to the rest of the world out there that dialogue is the way to go when we allow dialogue to slip out of our vocabulary and our practice.

We need to become a nation of dialoguers if we are to survive the numerous challenges facing us. And this needs to start at home.

It is time to consider the formation of a dialogue infrastructure – a national dialogue forum – which is supported by government, legislated by parliament, funded in a partnership of the state and private sector, but driven by civil society.

Its mandate should be to convene dialogue in safe spaces for all South Africans at all levels, knitting a cohesive nation that grows stronger in our capacity to overcome inequality together. Key recommendations will be generated and collated into a South African agenda for action.

We have already had an experience of a dialogue mechanism when the National Peace Accord structures provided the infrastructure, skills and opportunities for the peaceful resolution of conflicts in the early 90s.

If we don’t talk, we will always be apart. If we do talk and but get stuck in the confrontational mode, we will fall behind.

If we genuinely interact in dialogue around the question: “What does the future ask of us?” we will continue to walk together.

How to do this will be the topic of the Finding Ways to Walk Together national dialogue on July 25-26 2012, which is convened by the Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town, Thabo Makgoba.

When the people lead, leaders will follow, said Gandhi.

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