ACTIVATE! hosted its second Exchange dialogue on 23 August with over 400 Activators and stakeholders gathering simultaneously in Limpopo, KwaZulu-Natal, Western Cape and Mpumalanga to hold discussions around Identity and Leadership.

The ACTIVATE! Exchange is a quarterly discussion forum with the aim of drawing together young people and thought leaders from civil society as well as government and business to explore ways in which positive social change may be brought about in South Africa.

The theme for this Exchange was Identity and Leadership and the over-arching topic looked at re-imagining who we are in order to build a more inclusive society. The atmosphere at each Exchange was electric as everyone reflected on their individual, national and global identities and what it means to be a good leader in our communities and society.  

“Do South Africans need a common identity?”, “How do we define our identity and accept other forms of identity different from our own” and “How can we find a new identity between ourselves and others” were questions that kicked off group discussions.

“We need to acknowledge those things that happened to us so [that] we are able to move forward,” was one of the comments that emerged from group discussions at the Cape Town Exchange hosted at the Malibongwe Restaurant in Khayelitsha, Cape Town. “We acknowledge our history and Apartheid, but we also need to create our own history,” was another.

And while thoughts and opinions flew back and forth at the various venues, social media was abuzz with comments as those who could not physically attend the Exchange added their voices to the national conversation.

Comments emerging from both physical and virtual platforms included:


  • “We can have the constitution on paper, but what happens on the ground is vastly different to what is written there.”
  • “Ideologies shape our views and this leads to a certain identity and fear.”
  • “I need to know myself and find how I can identify with my neighbour. I am not Pedi, Tsonga or Zimbabwean. I am human. What I must ask is what am I doing that will be remembered in my country.”
  • “We need to stop differentiating on race, gender, culture. This creates prejudice. We need to see each other as human. That will create an inclusive society.”
  • “Urbanisation is important. It facilitates us to connect with those different from us.”
  • “Young people relate more to things they see on TV than in their own background because of good life, money and comfort.”
  • “History is how you tell the time that you are in. How do we separate Identity and history?”
  • “Let us be aware of the words we speak because they move us to act.”
  • “It’s not about me, it’s about us. This way we will rise above divisions.”


After group discussions,the rooms once again combined as thought leaders from around the country presented their thoughts and expanded on what had already been discussed.

Cape Town panellist and Activator Cathy Achilles’ comments on how – on an international level – weare all family were welcomed and celebrated by the audience in Cape Town.

 “I might look white but my father is Zulu. I might be black but my father is white. Why are we classified as ‘other’ if we are all family,” she said. “If you think of Xenophobia and then our history, our descendents are from all over Africa, so we are attacking our own family,” she added.

In KwaZulu Natal, Panellist Abigail Crawford, CEO of Ukukhanya Development Trust presented herself as an example of the changes that South Africa’s identity is heading toward.

“Right now I am the minority, but 20 years from now I’ll be part of the majority from mixed marriages.” She also urged youth leaders to advocate and promote self-acceptance, tolerance and diversity. “Understanding who we are is key to understanding others,” she said.

KZN Panellist Dr FikileNdlovu, General Manager of HIV/AIDS at the Office of the Premier in KZN, shared her belief that young leaders need to carry their identities with pride and not look down on themselves. If they do this, she cautioned, they may lose some of the values that prove essential to good leadership.

In Limpopo, Panellist VusiTshabalala, Motivational Speaker and Environmental Educator, said that tribalism in the business sector – Vendas employ Vendas and Pedis employ Pedis – discriminates against other cultures and destroys the one identity we must all strive for: African!

At the end of the dialogue, positive feedback was representative of not only the amazing reflections that came out of the dialogue but the success of the event. “These dialogues are setting the foundation for driving change in South Africa,” tweeted @iseLu_M.

Activator Anele Celewho attended the Limpopo Exchange said that she found the event meaningful, relative and relevant. “It showed me that in leadership and in the world, we live with people with different identities and different backgrounds and that it’s important to know how to deal with conflicts that arise peacefully so we can achieve greater things by simply understanding that we are all human no matter our ethical differences.”

In Cape Town, Director of Namutebi and Associates and co-curator of The Story Club, Philippa Kabali-Kagwa,rounded off the day with the following thoughts:

“We live in the most diverse continent in the world. We have desert, rain, snow, sand. It is the only continent in the world that has all of that.The many languages and cultures we have in Africa mirror this diversity. We look at these differences as if it’s the problem but it is this diversity that makes us beautiful and is our greatest opportunity.”

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