Thursday, 13.04.2017 - Tuesday, 18.04.2017

The Fort Hare Autumn School on Social Democracy and Political Economy

The Fort Hare Autumn School on Social Democracy and Political Economy (FHAS) addresses the relevance of Social Democracy in twenty-first century South Africa: What are its core values and goals, and how can it be put into practice? The FHAS offers a unique opportunity for South African students from the Eastern Cape to enhance their critical thinking, improve their leadership skills and knowledge about Social Democracy and Political Economy.

This civic education programme supplements the formal academic curriculum of university students by providing a platform for vivid discussions among students as well as with stakeholders, decision makers and academics over the course of the year. By combining sound academic tuition with facilitative leadership, debating, negotiation and dialogue skills, the FHAS enables the participants to become active and socially responsible citizens who work towards a better South Africa for everyone. The first out of three modules of the programme aims at familiarizing the participants with the core values of social democracy as well as how to contextualize it to the African and South African situation.

The project had gender relevance as it aims to empower women to take on leadership roles in society. Their training starts in small positions such as in leadership roles at school and tertiary level, and their attendance of leadership trainings such as the Fort Hare Autumn School is very important and future-oriented. The Autumn School aims to establish a gender-balanced group of participants each year. This year, it consists of 55% men and 45% women.

The specific objectives of the Autumn School were to develop young leaders who would later contribute to the political, economic and social debates of this country and fill the existing leadership vacuum in South Africa. The prospective leaders of the Fort Hare Autumn School should aspire to become leaders that work for the common good and the well-being of everyone in society within their different spheres of influence.

On 13 April, the FHAS class of 2016 and class of 2017 came together for a joint session in which the outgoing 2016 group shared their experience of participating in the Autumn School and gave advice to the incoming 2017 group. The 2017 group were given an opportunity to share their expectations of the programme. This session was followed by a fishbowl discussion on the nature and state of democracy in South Africa. A graduation ceremony for the 2016 group was held in the evening where Professor Francis Wilson, one of the founding fathers of the FHAS as well as Emeritus Professor at the University of Cape Town gave the keynote address.

From 14 – 18 April, the FHAS 2017 started. A total of 20 participants (9 female, 11 male) gathered in Hogsback, Eastern Cape. This was the first module (out of three) which aimed at laying the foundational basis for the participants’ understanding of social democracy and included sessions on political concepts, core values of social democracy, political economy and social policy. The module also sought to ground participants in the social, political and economic context of South Africa and to assist them to relate the values of social democracy to the socio-political and economic challenges that South Africa faces.

The following topics were discussed during hand over session on 13 April:

  • Fishbowl discussion on the state of democracy in South Africa following a viewing of a documentary on the demarcation protests that took place in Khutsong in 2005: students from both the 2016 and 2017 FHAS participated in the discussion reflecting on responsiveness and accountability of government, the meaning of participation, the effectiveness of public consultation processes and why community members chose to boycott elections rather than vote for a political party other than the ANC. This discussion helped to set the context for the sessions that would follow during the first module of the 2017 FHAS.

The following topics were discussed during the first module of the Fort Hare Autumn School 2017: 

  • Political theories of liberalism, conservatism, communism and African political thought: In his presentations, Prof. Mcebisi Ndletyana introduced students to various strands of political thought, how each of these understands the concepts of freedom, equality and representation as well as how each of these schools of political thought conceptualise the role of the state.
  • Informal discussion with Prof. Francis Wilson: Prof. Wilson presented the history of the Eastern Cape and the surroundings of Hogsback and South Africa more broadly. The students took up the historical facts to debate the reasons for the current development of the province and South Africa at large.
  • History and values of Social Democracy, Economic theory and developmental theories: Mr. Simon Vaut students were introduced to the history of Social Democracy and the interrelation between freedom, justice and solidarity. Group work exercises were used to clarify these concepts. He presented the elements of foundational economic theories and students were asked to critically engage with the content and the theories’ application to the South African context in a group work exercise.
  • Social democracy in an African context: Mr. Ebrahim Fakir outlined how the state in Africa developed and evolved and how African governments, with a particular emphasis on South Africa, have attempted to inculcate the values of social democracy in their political systems. He contextualised social democracy in Africa.
  • Civic activism in South Africa: Mrs. Nompumelelo Runji outlined the meaning of civic agency and the importance of civil society participation and civic activism in realising the values of social democracy in the South African context. She emphasised the importance and necessity of solidarity given that South Africa continues to top the list of the most unequal countries in the world. She gave a brief overview of how South Africa’s political economy poses a challenge to the realisation of the core values of social democracy and how civil society can work together with the state to overcome the challenges.
  • Analysing South Africa’s political economy, development and transforming the economy: Mr. Khwezi Mabasa gave an in-depth analysis of South Africa’s political economy from colonial times to apartheid to post-apartheid South Africa. He provided a comparative analysis of orthodox political economy and heterodox political economy. Using the university system in South Africa and the recent student activism and protests, popularly known as Fees 

Must Fall, he illustrated the concept of political economy and its implications for development and for the realisation of social democracy in South Africa.

The session contributed towards achieving the project aim as the selected twenty students started the first module of the FHAS which will expose them to social democracy and critical thinking. The FHAS functions as a platform to bring together young leaders to exchange ideas and impart knowledge about the political, social and economic development of their communities and South Africa. The 2017 group was highly committed and has demonstrated their ability to discuss and critically engage with the given topics.

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