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Op-eds

Great Debates make us count

  • AboveBoardShaunZagnoev (3)
Since 2009, the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) has been holding multi-party “Great Debates” as part of our #MakeUsCount pre-election awareness and education campaigns. These events help to recapture the spirit of the “town hall” public meetings of yesteryear, when democracy was much more of a consultative, grass roots affair than it tends to be today. They also provide a vehicle for our community to make a meaningful contribution to debate and political awareness in the wider society.
by SHAUN ZAGNOEV | Apr 18, 2019

Over the past week, debates were held in Johannesburg and Cape Town. Both were highly successful, in terms of attendance and audience participation, and in terms of their impact beyond the confines of the Jewish community.

In Johannesburg, representatives of the African National Congress (ANC), Democratic Alliance (DA), African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP), Congress of the People (COPE) and the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) engaged in a lively but respectful exchange of views on their vision for the country. The audience responded enthusiastically throughout, including in the question-and-answer session.

Three days later, representatives of the DA, ANC, ACDP, and the new GOOD Party participated in the SAJBD (Cape) debate. Both debates were broadcast live, in Johannesburg by ChaiFM and by eNCA in Cape Town, and the many members of the media who attended ensured a gratifying amount of publicity afterwards. We were further fortunate to have the debates hosted by distinguished journalists Mandy Wiener in Johannesburg and Jeremy Maggs in Cape Town, and we thank them for putting their time and skills at our disposal.

Our #MakeUsCount initiative is aimed at getting our community interested and involved in the election process, both in the lead-up and on the day itself, and we believe that we have been successful. Just as importantly, we were able to show that the South African Jewish community, in spite of its size, continues to be an active, engaged, and identifying part of the greater nation-building and democratic process.

Freedom seder – sharing the lessons of Pesach

On Monday evening, the Board’s #MakeUsCount campaign culminated in a special pre-Yom Tov freedom seder held at the historic Villa Arcadia in Parktown, Johannesburg. As with previous initiatives of this kind, the event brought together a wide range of political and religious leaders, members of the media, and civil society to celebrate 25 years of democracy in South Africa in the context of the traditional Passover narrative. It offered a distinctively Jewish vehicle through which to celebrate this milestone.

We were honoured to have as speakers two distinguished veterans of the anti-apartheid struggle, Judge Albie Sachs and Mavuso Msimang, a former member of the Umkhonto we Sizwe high command in exile. They offered powerful and thought-provoking insights into the legacy of the democratic struggle, and the responsibilities that freedom brings.

Listen to Charisse Zeifert on Jewish Board Talk, 101.9 ChaiFM, every Friday from 12:00 to 13:00.

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