By Asanda Ngoasheng and Kirsten Pearson
We are the co-directors of the Centre for Dialogue and Community based in South Africa. We came together as social justice activists, sharing the belief that dialogue and community building are part of what is needed to help solve some of the world’s most pressing socio-economic issues. We are middle class women of different race groups in South Africa, who are constantly challenged by our different identities and the complexities they represent. As women, we are disempowered by our status in a patriarchal society, but being middle class means we are empowered by our economic status. Our embodiment of different race groups also complicates the picture as we have to be aware of being in spaces where we hold privilege, and in ones in which we don’t.
Our work constantly forces us to engage with the ways in which intersectionality plays out at different times in different places. We constantly have to think about when to speak up and when to keep quiet, allowing other voices in the room to be heard. When working in academic and government sectors, we respectively have attempted to engage with the concept of missing voices, and build platforms for narratives absent from these sites to be heard; however, we encountered many obstacles. We both left our spaces of comfort – as a full time academic at an institution of higher education and as a deputy director in government – because we realised that the work we were doing at these institutions was limited by structural inequalities which left some vital voices out. After leaving, we had to challenge ourselves to build new methods of engaging community and think of ways to bring excluded voices into our work.