Creating a sense of ‘South Africanness’ through dialogue

Sylvester Gasana and Karen Verburgh facilitated the No Name Initiative (Ignite) dialogue last weekend.

A small but highly engaged group attended the No Name Initiative (NNI) Ignite community dialogue at the Lighthouse Baptist Church in Hout Bay on Saturday January 14.

Aimed at opening channels of communication and addressing challenges affecting not only Hout Bay but South Africa as a whole, participants were soon into their stride as facilitators Sylvester Gasana and Karen Verburgh chaired the meeting.

The NNI is a transformational group process that supports expression, emotional processing, awareness dialogue, as well as personal responsibility and accountability.

The potential outcomes of this process are not only civic empowerment and activation of individual agency, but also community building and the co-creation of a sense of “South Africanness”.

The Sentinel was invited to participate in the event, which saw those in attendance raise pertinent issues they felt merited deeper discussion.

Topics such as “divisive rhetoric”, “children” and “learned helplessness” were suggested before a voting process determined that “hatred” would be the theme of the day, the consensus being that this word covered a wide range of issues.

Once this was established, participants were asked to enter a “dreaming phase” and reflect on what the world would look like without hatred. After individual views were expressed, each participant was given a “voice” to represent some of the themes that had emerged. These included “Love”, “Encouragement”, “Compassion”, “Hatred is natural”, “Letting go”, “Political interference” and “Judgment”.

Race relations both in Hout Bay and South Africa featured prominently in the discussion, and participants were exceptionally candid in expressing the pain they felt as a result of discrimination, or how they simply were unable to comprehend the extent of that pain given their own backgrounds.

Importantly, the dialogue took place in a spirit of geniality and openness, with participants holding nothing back in offering the room with their perspectives on what was happening in the country and beyond.

Ms Verburgh felt the dialogue went “really well”.

“There was lots of learning that took place. Different people took different learnings away from it,” she said.

“What we have found with such meetings is that people are searching a little in the beginning, and then they feel free to engage and become transparent. The same thing happened here,” she said.

Given the nature of the topic, it stood to reason that at some points views became polarised the longer the dialogue went on.

“Things did become intense, but that happens when people are really engaging with a topic. People were asked to change their roles, and that makes them look at things differently.”

More NNI dialogues are being planned for Hout Bay, with the next meeting scheduled for Saturday February 25 at the Lighthouse Baptist Church, from 3pm to 7pm.

Visit the Facebook page Dialogue in Hout Bay February, for more information.