Fort Hare encounters: interview with Nalinda Ndlebe

"The relationship FES had with South Africa at a critical time in our history made me more intrigued about all that I could benefit from the programme"

Photo: Nalinda Ndlebe (on the right) moderates fishbowl discussion on higher education at Fort Hare School (2016) by FES / Andreas Quasten

Nalinda Ndlebe is a young political scientist and activist from South Africa who takes pride to have grown up in a community that lives by the Ubuntu notion ‘it takes a village to raise a child.’

Founder of an organization that supports young South Africans from rural areas to access quality education, Nalinda is also an alumni of the Fort Hare Autumn School, a civic education program by the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung that supports, through education, a stronger civil society in South Africa.

The Fort Hare School started in South Africa as a one-week seminar. It has since grown into a civic education programme that supplements the formal academic curriculum of university students. It takes place in a country where FES shares a common history with the African National Congress, which it had supported while in exile, and eventually facilitated a dialogue with the reform-oriented segments of the white establishment.

Against the background of the current post-factual political context marked by the increased use of fake news, the special focus of the Fort Hare School in 2016 was on the role of media and a skills training. At the onset of 2017, we spoke to Nalinda about how she became part of the Fort Hare School, her experiences and the impact the programme has had on her life.

You were one of this year’s graduates of the FES South Africa’s Fort Hare Autumn School Programme. How did you find out about the Programme and what prompted you to apply?

N: I found out about the FES programme through the Research Capacity Development Office at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University. When I read about the opportunity to attend the FES Fort Hare Autumn School I learned more about FES South Africa.

Being a young woman and as a political scientist who is also active in student politics, it was very interesting for me to learn about the relationship FES had with the African National Congress (ANC) and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU). The relationship FES had with South Africa at a critical time in our history just made me more intrigued about how I could benefit from the programme.

The Programme is made up of four different modules which take place throughout the year. What were the different issues that were discussed during last year’s Programme?  

N: Lack of confidence in the government was among the hot topics. Corruption was also a strong point of interest, based on the Nkandla saga that was very controversial in South Africa last year. So were issues of inequality, poverty and unemployment – the triple challenges most individuals face in South Africa due to what many felt is a result of the historical context in the country. We discussed how to move forward and address some of these challenges.

All participants are students from one of the three different Universities in the Eastern Cape Province and all come from very different social settings. Hence student issues always came up as a topic, especially the question of privilege.

The Fort Hare Autumn School aims at fostering political understanding and critical thinking. How was this useful for you?

N: The speakers that presented the various topics promoted critical thinking and debate among us as students in a manner that was diplomatic and solution orientated. I learned that being a leader is about having vast qualities and skills and that education is indeed the catalyst for creating a strong African Continent.

As a woman within the fields of academia, politics and leadership the programme reassured me of the role that women have to play in politics and in the direction our country and continent are going. We still live in a very patriarchal society that exploits, undermines or undervalues the role women play in our society. I met phenomenal women during the school programme, all approaching their personal development in a bold and strategic way.

The assigned readings made me realise that to strive to be the best, you have to be well prepared. To make an effective difference you have to be equipped with the right material.

Throughout the programme, the participants acquire different skills, always in interaction with the core values of social democracy. What importance does political education have for you?

N: Political education in the context of my generation allows us to know where we come from, understand where we are and plan where we need to be. We cannot do that without guidance by literature and individuals who have experienced what we may experience in the future.

The political organizations that have carried South Africa to freedom have an office of a Political Commissar, a person responsible for Political Education. It is such historic organizations that have realised the importance of sharing knowledge and educating people so that they are able to make informed decisions.

Political Education promotes public participation and therefore strengthens democracy due to the fact that people will be engaging on issues from an informed point of view. They are then able to discuss and think critically about issues that affect them, and when crafting a way forward they will make sure that it best suits their needs, collectively.

If you were to pick one moment in the duration of the program as your highlight, which one would it be? 

N: For sure, the discussions that we had at the breakfast table, tea breaks, and the dinner table and in our rooms, at the end the day. Then we’d converse in a reflective manner, on the content we were exposed to.

It was very interesting for me to see all of us, coming out of our comfort zones, and learning new things. It would be so exciting to hear how all of us, after returning to our communities or universities, will have shared some of the things we had learned.

The friendships and connections made during the programme will remain a highlight. This is what the continent needs - effective collaboration!

What is next, any plans for the near future?

N: Learning has always been very close to my heart as access to quality education is not available for all in South Africa. So, I will continue to work in the organization that I set up – Inimbayethu –  to support better access to quality education for young South Africans from rural areas.

We support young South Africans in rural areas to excel in academic and leadership skills. To this end, we offer programs that help youth to prepare for city life, university entrance, become an entrepreneur, but also raise their awareness about gender violence and HIV/AIDS. All in all, we try to make information available and support rural youth in making planned decisions about their future.

In the future I plan to work more on gender issues. My aunt was a victim of domestic violence. The family tragedy was the last thing I ever expected to happen to us. It's also the drive behind my plan to get involved in actions to support women and children fights the violence they face in South Africa and Africa in general.

FES Connect team would like to thank Andreas Quasten (FES South Africa Office) for the support in producing the interview. 

About FES Connect

Connecting people, in the spirit of social democracy, we source and share content in English from the German and international network of the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung.

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