05/05/2017 16:00 SAST | Updated 08/05/2017 15:21 SAST

The National Foundations Dialogue Initiative Doesn't Want To Replace Activism

"We would have been complicit in an act of betrayal. We would have learnt nothing from history."

Gianluigi Guercia/Getty Images

The foundations established by former South African leaders came together to discuss the future of the country earlier on Friday.

In what has been described as an unprecedented move, three former heads of state -– FW De Klerk, Thabo Mbeki and Kgalema Motlanthe –- expressed their views on the current status of the country in front of a crammed room of dignitaries.

The event marked the first of many symposiums as part of the National Foundations Dialogue Initiative (NFDI) -– which is an amalgamation of eight prolific foundations to converse over political, economic and social issues plaguing South Africa.

The NFDI was launched last year and includes the following foundations: Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe, FW de Klerk, Thabo Mbeki, Helen Suzman, Desmond & Leah Tutu Legacy, Umlambo, Chief Albert Luthuli and Jakes Gerwel.

This is what South Africa's former presidents think of the country now.

De Klerk said South Africa was in the grip of the most "serious challenges" that have confronted it since 1994.

"We need to transform radically the situation where almost 40 percent of the population languishes in unemployment and hopeless poverty. We need to transform radically our approach to investment," he said.

De Klerk said South Africa is in a "constitutional crisis", faulting Zuma for "not carrying out his duties" and "undermining the independence of government institutions and organs".

Mbeki said it was impossible for anybody in South Africa to publicly argue against the "reality of national sickness" in politics, economy and in the context of social and national cohesion.

"After serious reflection, proceeding from their different positions, our National Foundations have concluded that our country is immersed in a general and worsening crisis which impacts and will continue to impact negatively on our country and the rest of our continent," Mbeki said.

Motlanthe said the "moral failings" of today cannot be allowed to cultivate into an "irreversible reality".

"If we allow this unwholesome character of politics to continue while we wallow in silence, history would never forgive our generation," he said.

"We would have been complicit in an act of betrayal. We would have learnt nothing from history."

Questions were raised during the dialogue about whether the platform would make a difference, but De Klerk was quick to assure its role in political transformation.

"There is room for dialogue next to activism, we are not saying dialogue should replace activism," he said.

In the coming months, the NFDI will facilitate similar dialogues across the country and in doing so, will co-ordinate, research and record their conversations about the state of the nation. The group will then seek to ultimately produce a document which should reflect a diversity of voices speaking about what should be done to alleviate the country's woes.