What are The Inkathalo Conversations?

The first of The Inkathalo Conversations will focus on homelessness in the City of Cape Town. 

The Greek philosopher Aristotle wrote in one of his works, Politics, around 330BC, that: “it is evident that the form of government is best in which every man, whoever he is, can act best and live happily.” In building safe, just, equitable, inclusive and prosperous democratic societies across the world, The Inkathalo Conversations works to advance forms of government in which we can all “act best and live happily.” 

Aristotle further believed that “the true forms of government, therefore, are those in which the one, or the few, or the many, govern with a view to the common interest; but governments which rule with a view to the private interest, whether to the one, or the few, or of the many, are perversions.” In the age of Disruption and the far worst off normal for the majority of the world’s population post Covid19, States face vulnerabilities across a range of issues.  From issues surrounding growing unemployment, to food scarcity and corruption, it has become a matter of duty to stand together as a collective of good people, from diverse persuasions, to build the country of our dreams.

Part of the reason Aristotle’s over 200 writings advances democratic systems, is that he believed in “the wisdom of crowds.” For his time it was quite a remarkably modern idea.  About the criticisms he received on the concept of democracy – crowds deciding on the form of government they want - he wrote: “If the people are not utterly degraded, although individually they may be worse judges than those who have special knowledge, as a body, they are as good or better.”

Even at our worst – we remain “we the people” to whom the preamble of our constitution refers. Even at times though utterly degraded, we are still better when we stand as a collective in our pursuit of a just, equitable, inclusive, safe and prosperous democracy.  

In our commitment to build a robust and engaged democracy based on soundly reasoned values, we do so with a view to those who will come after us. It is in the nature of democratic public life that criticism is what fortifies democracy from quietly migrating to becoming oligarchies, fiefdoms and totalitarian states. If the voices of criticism are silenced then democracy as an institution dies a slow, agonizing death. In the words of Paulo Freire, “To glorify democracy and to silence the people is a farce; to discourse on humanism and to negate people is a lie.”

As leaders of citizens movement and of public and civic life, The Inkathalo Conversations believe, that deep, frank, respectful and contested conversations are important to preserve democracy. Our greatest work of public service is to show those that do not believe that we serve democracy and its values, is to show that that we will serve them and their needs and interests more than we serve those who are our loyal followers. For it is only when we embrace our critics that we are true democrats. It is only when we stand alongside our adversaries to build a safe, equitable, inclusive, just and prosperous democracy that we can claim any greatness. 

In Doris Kearns Goodwin’s 2006 book “Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln”, she explores the extraordinary array of personal qualities that allowed Lincoln first to appoint, then to win over, men who had previously opposed him, and reveals how Lincoln's bold and brilliant actions helped him steer the country through its darkest days.  Democracies are stronger and at its best when it has a “Team of Rivals” whose humble brilliance and unbowed contestation inspires our narratives and work to hold our democracy in their careful hands to nurture its growth and to protect all its people. 

Inkathalo is a call to a conversation to work together in diversity, to respect each other, to heal the hurts and to build our country. It does not ask of us to insulate ourselves from criticism. For on the journey to build this country, it is the voices of our critics, more than those of our loyalists, than we should heed.  

Inkathalo Conversations is a call to dialogue, defined by Paulo Freire as “the encounter between men [and women], mediated by the world, in order to name the world”. He speaks of dialogue being a horizontal relationship founded upon love, humility, faith, hope, and critical thinking. Freire said that “Dialogue cannot exist, however, in the absence of a profound love for the world and for people… Dialogue further requires an intense faith in humankind, faith in their power to make and remake, to create and re-create, faith in their vocation to be more fully human (which is not the privilege of an elite, but the birth right of all).” 

We do this work of holding Inkathalo Conversations because of our deep love for the other – for every citizen, for all the people who live in this great land.   

The word Inkathalo originates from the Xhosa phrase that means “to show deep care for someone who is crying and showing deep emotion while crying.” It is a phrase that reaches out to the other – it is filled with empathy and concern for the other’s wellbeing.

Inkathalo is about being human towards what we see in front of us – of being moved by the other’s tears so that it compels us to act and do something that will stop their tears and bring light and sunshine to their eyes once again. Taking broken stories and turning them into conversations of hope and inspiration, it looks towards a bright future in which care, and concern will become the standards for normal life. Finally, Inkathalo is about justice – it is about making sure that the things which caused hurt, pain and suffering are removed and that justice prevails – a justice that makes people smile and not cry. Because we love all, Inkathalo is not about destroying and hurting – it’s about building and healing.

It is where the story of the other is received without judgement, where we uphold the idea that “at the point of encounter there are neither utter ignoramuses nor perfect sages; there are only people who are attempting, together, to learn more than they now know” (Paulo Freire).  It is about holding conversations that dries the tears of the nation and replaces it with the joy of a better future. And so, we speak with care about the individual and the state, about the neighbourhood and the corporation, about the street and the office block, and about the suburb and the township.  

The purpose of holding Inkathalo Conversations is to hold conversations that demonstrate care – where we listen with care, we speak with care, we ponder with care.  Therefore, this is The Inkathalo Conversations – a conversation to advance and deepen who we are as a people, as a country and as a democracy.  

We will stand against all perversions of democracy and we will work to ensure we can all – every citizen - “act best and live happily.” 

- The Inkathalo Conversations