9th October 2017
Alumni and friends of Wits raised more than R10 000 for students in one hour on 5 October, thanks to the generosity of journalist and activist Thandeka Gqubule.
Gqubule donated the proceeds of sales of her book, “No Longer Whispering to Power”, a biography of former Public Protector Thuli Madonsela, at a networking event held at the Wits Club on 5 October 2017.
At the invitation of the South Africa Student Solidarity Foundation for Education (SASSFE) and Wits’ Alumni Relations Office, Gqubule spoke about her time as a Wits student and about the state of South Africa now.
She read an extract from TE Lawrence’s “Seven Pillars of Wisdom” to give an idea of the “texture” of Wits in the mid-1980s:
“We were wrought up with ideas inexpressible and vaporous, but to be fought for. We lived many lives in those whirling campaigns, never sparing ourselves: yet when we achieved and the new world dawned, the old men came out again and took our victory to remake in the likeness of the former world they knew. Youth could win, but had not learned to keep, and was pitiably weak against age. We stammered that we had worked for a new heaven and a new earth, and they thanked us kindly and made their peace.”
Gqubule’s question about what has happened in South Africa in recent years was: where did we go wrong as a generation? “We failed to safeguard institutions because we disengaged. We failed to safeguard the values that we fell in love with at Wits. How we dropped the ball is still a marvel to me. We lost sight of South Africans’ ability to proceed through multi-stakeholder dialogue.” What she learnt from Advocate Madonsela’s story, she said, was that “sometimes you survive the high seas only to drown in shallow waters”.
Civil society needs to get organised and engage, she said. “Dip your bucket where you are. Speak your truth. Defend the press. Use the judiciary. Here at Wits, Thuli and I learnt that the law can be used for social change.”
Gqubule read a passage from the book describing the great migration of game across the Mara River in East Africa. First there is a period of disquiet, then the animals, young and old, en masse, “take the treacherous river by storm”. This is a metaphor for what the people of South Africa must do, she urged.
SASSFE co-founder and Wits alumnus Terry Tselane, who is deputy chairman of the Independent Electoral Commission, thanked Gqubule for supporting SASSFE and for leading the evening’s discussion. He said her book would encourage people to stand up and be counted, just as the “SABC Eight” had. These were the eight SABC journalists, including Gqubule, who were fired for speaking out against attempts to censor the news. Wits graduates were on the side of social justice and integrity, he said.
Gqubule said what she had learnt from the SABC Eight experience was to “identify your struggle”, focus on it, get organised, publicise it and “litigate the hell out of the problem”.
After a discussion about education and the persistence of inequality in South Africa, she called on the audience to “change zipcode apartheid”.
SASSFE management committee member and former Wits SRC president Kenneth Creamer said that proceeds of the book would be helping to feed some of the students in need at Wits University.
See photos of the event here.
Originally published by Lyrr Thurston for Wits Alumni Relations