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Graça Machel Calls For South African Soul Searching For Collective Healing

Dullah Omar Public Lecture: Graça Machel calls on the country to do soul searching for a collective healing

“Years ago South Africa was on the brink of civil war - today we are at war with ourselves in a violent and evil society.”

So said politician, humanitarian and former South African first lady Graça Machel, speaking at the 11th Dullah Omar Public Lecture on Tuesday 3 October 2017, hosted by the University of the Western Cape (UWC).

The lecture, titled A call for a nation’s soul searching, reflected on the founding principles of the South African Freedom Charter and Constitution. Machel also addressed the spate of violence, moral degeneration and socio-economic inequality in the country.   

“There is brutal violence in our streets, our homes, against our women and against foreigners - and this has become commonplace,” she said. “Political assassinations are at an all-time high, especially in KwaZulu-Natal, 86% of all service delivery protests have turned violent this year, and even at our institutions of higher learning we are at war. Even church leaders are committing crimes and exploiting the poorest of the poor in this broken society.”

UWC’s Registrar, Professor Nita Lawton-Misra, welcomed guests to the lecture, reflecting on how Dullah Omar’s legacy has played an even bigger role in the Institute’s work, as reflected when the Community Law Centre was renamed to the Dullah Omar Institute.

“This lecture comes at a time where our democracy is in danger - and it is at times like these that it becomes even more important to reflect on the inspirational legacy of Dullah Omar,” she said.

Since their establishment in 2004, the Dullah Omar Memorial Lectures have been held annually in honour of the late Advocate Dullah Omar, the founding director of UWC's Dullah Omar Institute (then called the Community Law Centre) and the former minister of Justice – a man who believed strongly in engaging on the big issues of the day. Previous speakers for the Dullah Omar Lecture include former president Thabo Mbeki, Archbishop emeritus Desmond Tutu and former Constitutional Court Judge Albie Sachs.

The Lecture was honoured with the presence of members of the Omar family, including Dullah Omar’s wife, Farida Omar, and his sister, Latifa Omar, who gave a word of thanks on behalf of the family.

“The values and qualities of Dullah Omar are in short supply,” said Professor Jaap de Visser, Director of the Dullah Omar Institute, “and those values are needed more than ever, given our current political climate.”

Those values, Machel noted, can help inspire South Africans to face up to the nation’s challenges, particularly when it comes to social and economic transformation.

“Our society is a broken one and needs healing. But to do this we need to heal ourselves first,” Machel said. “We need to fully articulate, internalize and institutionalize what it means to build and be a South Africa that is embracing of its diversity, at peace with itself, and dedicated to ensuring equality for all.”

She went on to say that without serious soul searching and an operating framework for all peoples to live and transform the way we identify and relate to one another in the spirit of Ubuntu - we will continue to be cocooned in “an unhealthy death trap of inequality and violence”.

“The interconnectedness and interdependency of our humanity makes such ills as violence against women, racial discrimination and oppression difficult to accept or institutionalize,” she said.

She noted that the philosophy of Ubuntu, while not a panacea, is perhaps a good starting point and framework for soul searching and healing, and that the respect for human dignity is an obligation and condition of being human.

“I look to you, UWC, as a stellar institution of progressive thought, to spearhead this process of societal transformation,” she said.

“You are well poised to lead a movement of excellent social scientists, academic institutions and research bodies to conduct more research on unpacking our wounded psyche and mental health, and suggesting mechanisms that will lead to our collective healing.”

To view the 11th Dullah Omar Memorial Lecture visit