The arts to play an important role as a new democracy forum is launched in Johannesburg by the French Institute

2 Days, 28 Events, 80 Speakers, 21 Nationalities, 23 South African & European Partners

By Edward Tsumele, CITYLIFE/ARTS Editor

This should rate as one of the most important fora in recent years tackling issues of democracy using the arts as a vehicle in the southern African region in recent years.

Come October 7-8, a number of events that include what promises to be robust discussions, poetry rendition, visual art installations, theatre performances and street walks involving several partners at several city venues will unfold.

This is clearly an event that one will miss at their own loss. Launched at the French Institute in Johannesburg on Wednesday, September 28, 2022 by  France’s  Ambassador to South Africa His Excellency  Aurélien J-D Lechevallier, this new well thought out forum titled Our Future: Africa-Europe Dialogues explores  democracy through artistic innovation and creativity.  It is a designed forum involving southern African participants and is quite inclusive, crucially also involving children in redefining what democracy is in a politically fragile southern African region.  The use of the arts as a tool to navigate this minefield of public life, politics, is quite significant as it demonstrates the various roles art could play in building societies. Equally important is the involvement of children in mapping out a democratic path as the future clearly belongs to them and any discussion with the potential to reconfigure society without involving future leaders is clearly meaningless.

“There traps here and the first one being that as societies we often think that we should not involve ourselves in politics. We have seen this example in France when mainly women stayed away from voting and what happens under those circumstances. Another example being Italy. Another trap we may fall into as society is to think that politicians will solve all our problems. When that happens that is when you start to see extremism and populism start to emerge, and that is dangerous,” the ambassador said in answer to a question about the importance of this forum in the political context.

The French Institute of South Africa (IFAS), the French Embassy in South Africa and their South African partners are set to host the first of a cycle of regional forums in Johannesburg from 7-8 October. The forum, titled, ‘Paths to Democracy’, focuses on revitalising democracy through innovation and creativity as it passes through iconic sites from Soweto to Constitutional Hill.

Our Future: Africa-Europe Dialogues

On year after the New Africa-France Summit which sought to revitalise the relation between France and South Africa, the French Institute in Paris, local partners in African countries, European partners, and the French cultural network plan to co-organise a series of regional forums titled, ‘Our Future: Africa-Europe Dialogues’ over the next three years. ‘Paths to Democracy’ is the first of these forums.

One of the shared challenges we face is the erosion of democracy, and to address this, we need to transform the way that democracy is considered. ‘Our Future: Africa-Europe Dialogues’ intends to do this through a series of innovative programmes designed to include diverse local and international perspectives from people of all ages.

‘Our Future: Africa-Europe Dialogues’ has three main objectives: to intensify the dialogue between African and European civil societies; to create the conditions for free, transparent, and peaceful exchanges between the two continents; and to work towards the shared development of new tools for co-operation.

Towards more inclusive democracies

‘Paths to Democracy’ is a free, accessible to all, and collaborative public programme co-created with local and international partners. It will bring together a wider body of activists, intellectuals, artists, community organisers and advocacy groups so that solutions to democratise the future reflect the diversity of the people who will experience it. Young people, in particular, are encouraged to participate in the programme, with events specially designed to include children and young adults in pinpointing ways of progress. The two-day intercontinental movement aims to empower all citizens and citizens-to-be to build their own designs for the transformation of democracy.

The first day of the forum, themed “Expressions of Democracy” (Friday, 7 October) will explore past and present experiences and manifestations of democracy. The Soweto Theatre will host a variety of discussions and creative engagements about different facets of

democracy involving the European Union (EU) and African countries. The day will end with a slam poetry competition at the University of Johannesburg (UJ) Soweto campus. The second day, themed “New Forms of Democracy” (Saturday, 8 October) will allow the public to visit Constitutional Hill, where they can also participate in workshops, walks and discussions about innovative democratic projects. A multi-generational dialogue with topics aimed at engaging younger generations is highly anticipated.

Speaking on the importance of ‘Paths to Democracy’ and what the forum hopes to achieve, French Ambassador Aurélien Lechevallier said: “Europe and Africa are facing similar challenges as we witness a widening gap between the youth and the political scene. Through this series of debates, we hope to encourage dialogue across the continents and generate new ideas to strenghten our democracies.”

You too can join this journey towards the revitalisation of democracy. Because space is limited, register at to reserve your spot as soon as possible to avoid disappointment. The full programme details can be viewed on the same link.

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