Transformation and change issues discussed by psycho-therapists at University of Pretoria

Posted on March 20, 2015

Connectivity, personal engagement, change and transformation were some of the important topics discussed at the Second African Regional Conference of the International Association for Group Psychotherapy and Group Processes (IAGP), hosted by the University of Pretoria (UP) between 11 and 14 March 2015.

The theme of the conference was ‘Groups crossing boundaries: co-creating spaces for transformative change’ and Dr Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela and former constitutional judge Albie Sachs were among the speakers.

The IAGP is a worldwide network of professionals involved in the development and study of group psychotherapy and group processes as applied in clinical practice, consultancy, education, scientific studies and socio-cultural settings. Its main purpose is to learn from local experiences in different countries, whether underdeveloped or developing. The organisation also helps to connect people and find a way of overcoming conflict between social classes, cultures, generations and genders.

IAPG also endeavours to cross boundaries between or conflicts in countries and to reach out to countries facing hardship and conflict. This in turn helps countries to learn more about each other.

Through its seminars the IAPG maintains strong collaborative research ties with universities in order to obtain data from field experience and institutional research.

Prof Cheryl de la Rey, Vice-Chancellor and Principal of UP, said the theme of the conference reaches out to both international and local participants in practice and academia, which will lead to interesting, thoughtful and engaging exchanges that may stimulate research collaboration.

‘This is a quest for creating a social transformational space. It is my hope that every participant will find the conference productive and that this platform for engagement will lead to new ways of working in the fields of social and community development, leadership, training and research,’ she said.

Professor De la Rey also said the conference would give an opportunity to participants to personally experience the legacy of forgiveness and reconciliation established under the leadership of our late, former president, Nelson Mandela.

 Dr Gobodo-Madikizela said the conference gave participants an opportunity to deal with relational issues, especially in a country such as South Africa, where signs of a schism between black and white people are beginning to show. She said a conference such as this is critical in dealing with relational issues between races.

‘Over the years, there has been a dissipation of the sense of solidarity in the country [between blacks and whites]. This sense of solidarity, which was truly South African, is beginning to dissipate, and we are beginning to witness another reality,’ she said.

Dr Gobodo-Madikizela said there should be introspection on why the vision of solidarity is slipping away. According to her one of the answers to this question is inequality and economic injustice, which remain issues that have not been addressed in the processes of transition and transformation in our country.

She further mentioned that there should be wider dialogue in South Africa and that the present dialogue is very adversarial because it is not in a structured form like that of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). ‘There is not enough dialogue and it … happens mostly in the media. Dialogue should be engaged in and also be transformed beyond what the TRC did. There should be a dialogue, for instance, about black and white privileges and what these privileged groups can do in order to transform the lives of the people at the lowest levels of deprivation,’ she added.

South African activist and former judge of the Constitutional Court of South Africa, Justice Albie Sachs, gave a keynote address. He described how building the Constitutional Court in the heart of the Old Fort Prison, where both Gandhi and Nelson Mandela were locked up, was symbolic of the transformation of South Africa from negativity to positivity. He described the creation of the Constitutional Court as the greatest achievement and said it is the most important institution in maintaining our hard-earned democracy.

‘The Constitutional Court brought justice and fairness in the country and was formed to heal the aching disparities between people, and [it] also brought interconnectedness among the citizens who share a common set of values,’ he said.

Justice Sachs encouraged the nation to let go of the pain of the past and move on with life. He illustrated this point by recounting how he lost an arm and the sight in one eye when a bomb was detonated in his vehicle in 1988 while he was in exile in Maputo, Mozambique. He said he later interacted with the man who had planted the explosive device in his vehicle, and that this interaction had brought to him a sense of transcendence and released him from his inner anger. This enabled him to carry on with his life.

Prof David Gutmann, President of the IAGP, said his organisation’s work and presentations are crucial for the world in that different countries are enabled to share knowledge and to be nourished by each other. ‘As an institution, we are trying to bring our understanding of the world to the political leaders in the world. Our understanding of humankind and our experience in over 60 countries … help bring integration to countries that are undergoing transformation and change,’ he said.

- Author DUR

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