Seminar compares and contrasts South African and Chilean experiences of transition

Posted on June 15, 2016

On Monday, 23 May 2016, the Department of Political Sciences at the University of Pretoria (UP), in association with the Embassy of Chile and the Nelson Mandela Foundation, hosted a seminar titled 'Unfinished transitions and uncertain futures: Chile – South Africa' on UP's Hatfield Campus. His Excellency Mr Carlos Parker, the Chilean Ambassador to South Africa, attended the event, which was sponsored by the Embassy of Chile.

The aim of the seminar was to compare and contrast the South African and Chilean experiences of transition in the 1990s, and to explore the impact that these experiences had on contemporary political, economic and social conditions. The seminar also looked at how the youth in the respective societies interpreted the past, and at the implications of their interpretations for future developments. The seminar was intended to lay the groundwork for further voluntary collaboration between Chilean and South African scholars with an interest in these issues. The event was attended by members of the diplomatic corps, researchers and students interested in South African-South American relations.

Prof Sandy Africa, Acting Head of the Department of Political Sciences, opened the seminar. The first session, which focused on 'The Chilean transition' was moderated by Mr Roland Henwood from UP. Professor Felipe Aguero, from the University of Chile, presented a paper titled 'Characterising the Chilean transition: a review and reflection'. His presentation covered the narratives and interpretations of the Chilean transition, the role of different actors (formal and informal), the outcome of the political process, mechanisms and time-frames for the transition, the role of security actors, and the implications of these for democratic consolidation. The session also reflected on how the events of the 1990s have been remembered and reimagined with the passage of time.

The second session explored 'The South African Transition' and was moderated by Mr Sello Hatang from the Nelson Mandela Foundation. Dr Siphamandla Zondi, Executive Director of the Institute for Global Dialogue, presented a paper titled 'Icons of transition and the leadership imperative of change – the case of Mandela and Bachelet'. It covered the role of leadership in transition, and reflected on the role that former President Mandela played in the South African transition. It also highlighted the lessons that today's leaders could learn and apply in times of crisis. In response, Dr Gloria de la Fuente looked at the leadership changes in Chile following the transition and assessed the extent to which these had impacted on the quality of life of the Chilean people.

The third session, moderated by Professor Maxi Schoeman, Deputy Dean of the Faculty of Humanities at UP, looked at the implications of the geopolitical and economic changes, and the economic and social shifts that have taken place since the 1990s, both in South Africa and in Chile. Dr Frank Maththeis from the Centre for Governance Innovation discussed the futures of South Africa and Chile emphasising the perspective of young people and how they feel about what has been accomplished thus far. Against the background of ongoing student struggles, two postgraduate students from UP, Mr Mohlotse Mohale and Ms Sylvia Graham, explained the frustrations of South African youth who, twenty years after democracy, are still confronted by social challenges that are interwoven with the dynamics of race, class and gender.

The seminar concluded with a lively discussion on possible areas for research collaboration between scholars from South Africa and Chile. Some key questions that emerged concerned gaining a better understanding of the prospects for democratic consolidation in Chile and South Africa, the impact that shifting global power relations has on democracy in the two countries and their regions, the role of the military and other security actors, the quality of democracy, and its impact on citizens' assessment thereof. The next day, some of the participants reconvened at the Nelson Mandela Centre for Memory, where the theme was 'Memory and transitions'. The day's events confirmed that much work remains to be done in both South Africa and Chile to ensure that the societies recover fully from the trauma of authoritarian rule.


- Author Myan Subrayan

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