Friday, 15 May 2015

The ASR Institute's Opening Dinner

The Auwal Socio-Economic Research Institute (ASRI) kicked off the second of their civil engagement conferences this evening at the Wanderers Club in Johannesburg. This was an evening of inspiring speeches by high profile South Africans, pleasant food, and cordial conversation; and also, unexpectedly, a stark reminder that the nation-building work that lay ahead is perhaps just as daunting as it was in 1994. Just as the Deputy President of the Republic of South Africa, Cyril Ramaphosa, prepared to deliver the keynote address, a man rose from the gallery and loudly pronounced that the speaker is a murderer, and that the people demand justice for what happened at Marikana.

The audience observed an uneasy silence as the protester was aggressively removed by the Deputy President's security personnel. The cacophony of the violence died down, and proceedings continued. The Deputy President spoke with the calm, measured confidence one expects from a seasoned politician - skillfully dissipating any tension that may have lingered. He spoke of the process of developing the National Development Plan (NDP), the revered blueprint of the coming South African success story. He spoke of how a group of strategists had been appointed by the President to consult and engage with representative segments of South African society to develop this plan, drawing similarities between the drafting of the NDP and the Freedom Charter. The point was that this NDP document needed to be adopted and implemented actively by everyone, because it came from everyone. He lauded ASRI for bringing together the "fertile minds" of the Muslim community to engage on the NDP, because "we all share a common future." 

Earlier in the evening, guests were reminded of the substantial contribution Muslim leaders made in the struggle against Apartheid. In the areas of politics, activism, social upliftment and sports - Muslims have been a positive force in South Africa. Guests were encouraged to make use of this excellent platform to reconnect with that heritage, to start become active citizens on matters of governmental policy. This, after all, is what ASRI is all about.

The final speaker was the leader of the Jamiatul Ulama South Africa. He took to the stage to share the Islamic perspective on cooperation with the rulers, working towards good in plurality, and being proactive. He made use of the platform to assure the government representatives present that the Muslim community of South Africa would offer its collective expertise and abilities to help build the country. 

What is particularly encouraging about this evening's event is the range and diversity of guests. Prominent people, Muslims and non-Muslims, from all sectors of civil society actively engaging on the state of South Africa. Excited at the prospect of unity despite clear differences. Excited that Muslim contribution to public policy will be based on credible research and will be heard by government. It would be easy to get swept away in the buzz of it all. Then, I look at the programme for tomorrow. Education, safety, health, unity, employment, environmental protection, corruption and policy implementation - they are all there. But one can still hear the cry of the protester as he is dragged out of the hall: "we demand justice." Yes; what about justice? Perhaps we will find out tomorrow.

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