Speakers inspire at Canon Collins Alumni Seminar

The inaugural Canon Collins Alumni Seminar was held on Saturday 5th November 2016, at the Ford Foundation in Johannesburg. The objective of this gathering was to celebrate, showcase and share the work of Canon Collins Trust alumni who are engaged in various fields of social justice work.

  • Dewa Mavinga(Human Rights Watch) spoke of his research and activism exposing human rights abuses in Zimbabwe, and advocating for a culture of respect for human rights in southern Africa.
  • Professor Kealeboga Maphunye (Chair in Electoral Democracy, UNISA) spoke about his work with election management bodies across Africa, outlining some of the challenges and opportunities for the development of stable democratic government on the African continent.
  • Onke Mazibuko (Transnet Foundation) spoke of his complete immersion in the world of rural health during his 5 years managing and living on board the Phelophepa Health Train.

We were delighted to see so many alumni and other friends of the Trust in attendance and look forward to making this an annual event. A special thank you to Nicolette Naylor (CCELAT alumna and Trustee) who chaired the lively panel discussion and Wonga Hexana (alumnus) who was our charming MC.

After the seminar we managed to have a few words with Shaun Ruysenaar (alumnus), about his personal contribution to positive social change in South Africa, the benefits of being part of the Canon Collins Alumni Network, and his hopes for the future trajectory of this extraordinary network of change-makers.

The speakers were fantastic. They shared their work and gave us some insight into the challenges they face and possible solutions to these challenges. Who stood out for you and why?

I would have to say Onke, because of his passion and the practicality of what he’s doing. I think the health space, along with education, is one of the big issues in South Africa. I strongly believe we need more people doing more practical things like Onke is doing and then we’ll start seeing waves of change. I mean there are people doing really good work – but we need more, and with sponsorships through Transnet and some of the big boys, it is possible to make meaningful contributions.

And I really like what he’s doing. He’s taken what he has studied, matched it with a passion for activism and he’s making a difference by merging the two. He’s ‘got it’. It is sad you don’t see him on the news instead of the usual guys. I like his passion, I like his drive –  and I think a lot of people responded to that. I had the fortune of filming this event while the speakers were talking, and it was great to see people really locking in. Onke provides an example to what we as alumni and scholars could be doing.

How do you see yourself as a change maker or contributing to positive change?

So I’m in an interesting space at the moment for a variety of reasons, but I’ll focus on two of my involvements.

First, I work with people who have come through the movement – the ANC movement – and are getting a bit disillusioned with the system as it is, and are looking for avenues and platforms to start engaging in more real, honest ways as South Africans. So with that, we’ve developed something called the Fellows of Fire, which basically involves a bunch of people going away for a weekend, and talking around the fire; talking openly and honestly about how we deal with life as South Africans. For young folk, I think we’re on a different wavelength, but I think for some of the older generations of South Africa, they’re still hung up a lot on the race issues, a lot of the institutionalized differences –  it’s black, it’s white, it’s this, it’s that … and there’s no platforms where people can come together and talk … and be honest with each other like, “ As a black South African, this is how I feel…” and, “….as a white South African this is how I feel…” and once you’ve done that start going, “Okay, does that feeling mean we necessarily hate each other?” And more often than not, it doesn’t. It’s just “Wow! I didn’t know how you felt.”

The other area of my work is with the Da Vinci Business Institute. They are one of the up-and-coming Business Schools in South Africa. We have just launched the Chair of Social Dialogue, under the stewardship of Job Mokgoro, who was one of the main developers of the National School of Government. There are four elements underpinning the Chair: Health, Education, Food Security and Private Public Partnerships, and each of those four are developing into research areas. I chair the Food Security leg of it, which is a good fit in that my Honours and Masters looked at Food Security interventions in South Africa. We’re looking at practical dialogue-based interventions where we’ll go into a community and say, “Let’s talk about what food security means in your context,” rather than the top down approach of, “I’m an expert on food security, I know what you need to do.” We want communities to talk about it from their grounded perspectives, and then build our expertise into a more holistic solution. This is a passion for me. I feel I’ve been given a lot – scholarships being one of them, as well as having had the fortune of meeting some high-powered and credible people. So I must give back.

What are your hopes for the Canon Collins Alumni Network?

I’ve actually been wondering about this. If you listen to the talks today, clearly Canon Collins Trust is having an immense impact on people. And I am talking BIG! We saw just 3 people here on stage – but there are hundreds of people behind them who have been impacted by what they do. So in future, we can only go from strength to strength. I know Gillian [Attwood] (Canon Collins alumna and South Africa Manager) has put in a lot of work which is great, but I think there is more to do in terms of mobilizing the Canon Collins Trust alumni. I am certain there are more alumni out there who could contribute. The work they’re doing is amazing.

I think the impact of being afforded the opportunity to study – here and abroad – provides one with a deeper knowledge and experience of seeing how things function. So good work guys. Amazing stuff!