Defending democracy at Rhodes

By Sarah Botha 

The Vice Chancellor’s public forum was undertaken in the Barrett lecture hall on Thursday, 16 October 2008, in order to “consider and debate political and economical issues currently facing South Africans,” said Vice Chancellor Saleem Badat. The panel featured prominent political analyst Dr Steven Friedman, Advocate Izak Smuts as well as politics lecturer Dr Thabisi Hoeane.  


The forum, which was well-attended by students, the general public and academics, featured a ten minute address from each of the panel members, followed by an open floor discussion with the audience. In response to the current political situation, Dr Friedman said, “The present events have created an opportunity to develop democracy in South Africa.” He continued by saying, “If we are to become the type of democracy where everyone from grass roots level upwards has a say, these changes are ones we have to go through.”
Amy Richardson, a first year BA student who attended the forum, said, “The evening introduced new perspectives on our current situation. It was interesting hearing the different views. It made me think differently about what’s happening.” Danielle Bowler, a second year BA student, said, “[The panel] didn’t really address whether or not we are in a constitutional crisis. They likened the South African situation to ones that have happened in other parts of the world, and I’m not sure if I can take back any hope for South Africa.” When asked whether or not forums such as this one are necessary, both agreed that, from the turnout of the evening, they do indeed appear to be so. “The VC is onto a good thing with the forums,” added Bowler.
The forum was initiated by students who wanted a better understanding of the current political situation from experts in the political realm. “The forums are not going to be a weekly or even a quarterly event. Instead, the forums are an occasional public space where matters of significance can be brought forward,”explained Badat. The Rhodes homepage will soon have a space for students to submit suggestions for future forums


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