Ubuntu Dialogues

Student Conversations 2021

Talking in the spirit of Ubuntu: How we talk, how we listen, and how we decide what to do about the big problems we face together

In 2021 the focus of the student conversations shifted from theme-based conversations to co-creating a better understanding of how, in conversation with others, we draw on each of our individual identities and personal lived experiences to connect to a collective identity, and the lived experiences of others. This connection often depends on a different way of listening and talking to, and with, others. This year’s conversations are premised on the notion that moving forward and acting together in solving deep and endemic societal problems depends on finding ways of talking and listening to one another that recognize our differences and reveal our common interest in solving difficult problems. The challenge of dialogue across difference often lies in naming those issues that seem unspeakable or difficult to talk about. Transformative moments emerge when we are intentional about creating spaces where it is possible to say the difficult things we sit with out loud, and where our voices will find receptive, listening hosts.

“Dialogue is a process of genuine interaction through which human beings listen to each other deeply enough to be changed by what they learn.” (From the Civil Conversations Project)

Lireko Qhobela


Lireko Qhobela is an applied theatre facilitator, drama therapist, performer and a PhD candidate with The Centre for the Study of the Afterlife of Violence and Reparative Quest (AVReQ) at Stellenbosch University. Her work involves the use of art and drama techniques to enable dialogue, self- reflection and healing. She enjoys a fusion of play, yoga and storytelling in her facilitation work. Her current project explores the experiences of applied drama and theatre practitioners within the South African context to better understand their needs as they work in spaces that hold collective trauma narratives. Other interests include the care and wellbeing of artists, mindfulness and fitness.

Ruby Quantson


Ruby Quantson Davis is a peace and development researcher/practitioner with nearly 20 years’ global experience  in public policy research and advocacy, deliberative conversations, community engagement and institutional development. Ruby specialises in strengthening capacity for conflict prevention and peace processes, in places of political polarization, religious differences, ethnic, racial and gender divides. She has worked extensively within Africa and the South Pacific; Israel and the United  States, using innovative ways of reflecting, learning, documenting and sharing knowledge. She currently serves as the Senior Learning and Impact Advisor at Peace Direct, the international charity in London. She is an Associate Member of Wesley House, in Cambridge, U.K., a Faculty member of the Deliberative Democracy Institute, a former Fellow and Resident Scholar of the Kettering Foundation, U. S.A. 

Beza Desta

Technical Support (MSU)

Media, Event Logistics, and Communications Intern for Ubuntu Dialogues at Michigan State University (MSU). Born in Ethiopia and raised in Zimbabwe, she’s currently studying Media and Information and Advertising Management at MSU. In this role, Beza is responsible for the event (in-person and virtual) planning and management, communication, and digital media components of the project, including the Ubuntu Dialogues film-in-progress. Beza is also completing minors in Fiction Filmmaking, Entrepreneurship and Innovation, and Advertising Analytics.

Elvandre Galant

Technical Support (SU)

Elvandre Galant is responsible for the Stellenbosch University Museum’s computer systems and other computer related technologies. He is also responsible for operating and troubleshooting computer issues, the general maintenance of technologically related equipment, and providing technical assistance to The Ubuntu Dialogues Programme.

The Participants

Michigan State University Fellows

Alessandro Bocchi

Bachelors, Computer Science, Class of 2024

Michigan State University

I was born in Gqeberha, South Africa, and lived there until I was 12 years old. I have since spent 2 years living in Brazil and 5 years and counting in America. I am majoring in Computer Science and Minoring in Global Social Science at Michigan State University.

Grace Jackson

Bachelors, Political Science, Class of 2024

Tuskegee University

Driven & consistent change-maker invested in advocating for betterment in whatever atmosphere she is in. Her appointment as a Montgomery Community Hero for the month of June 2020 shows this. After hosting a protest in Montgomery, AL she created her own advocacy non-profit organization, We Matter Montgomery. She is a known partner for the Southern Youth Leadership & Development Institute, Black Voters Matter, and is currently the youngest on the Montgomery Mayoral Young Professional’s Council. She will produce effectiveness each time and takes constructive criticism well.

Ja’Kala Fudge

Masters, Health Administration, Class of 2022

Florida A&M University

I am a 2nd year Masters of Health Administration Candidate at Florida A&M University, from Perry, FL. I have a bachelor’s degree in General Health Science and a minor in Rehabilitation Services Management.

Jew-El Jones

Bachelors, IT and Interdisciplinary Social Sciences minors, Class of 2024

Michigan State University

I’m a Sophomore at Michigan State University. Community is a contributor to my success. Ubuntu is a reflection of community; as my understanding of Ubuntu is strengthened I’ll further reveal ways community facilitates success; and ways I can amplify those who benefit.

Jonathan Suan

Bachelors, Social Relations and Policy, Class of 2022

Michigan State University

I have a history of advocacy for Filipino and Asian American communities here at Michigan State as well as in the Metro Detroit area. I also love to read about topics regarding race, history, class struggle, philosophy, technology, and social criticism. I have a background in politics and history in Asia, and would love to do comparative discussions with those with backgrounds in African politics and histories. I also have an interest in psychoanalysis, especially writings from Fanon and Lacan, and would love to bring that analytical lens to the table when discussing identity.

Lily Cross

Bachelors, Journalism, Class of 2023

Michigan State University

I am a Junior originating from South Florida. My major is Journalism and I minor in Entrepreneurship. I represent my college as a student assistant in the Department of Diversity Equity and Inclusion. My passions are creativity and unraveling other’s stories.

Ramani Lewis-Emmanuel 

Bachelors, Sports Sciences, First Year

University of West Indies (Cave Hill)

I am twenty years old. I was born in London, England. However, I grew up in St. Lucia where I attended primary and secondary school. I then went to a college prep school on a basketball scholarship in Georgia, America. I am now at the University of West Indies where I major in Sport Science.

Yancy Wingard

Bachelors, Economic Geography, Class of 2022

Michigan State University

My first chosen descriptor outside of being a student would be an advocate. As early as grade school, I have been a vocal advocate for those with experiences adverse to perceived norms of our society. As a child, I was actively involved in my church’s outreach programs providing the clairvoyance that allowed me to place myself in others shoes and take in full perspectives. Aside from my direct advocacy and abatement, I’m also interested in understanding and eventually solving the systemic woes that disparately plague many of us. to do this, I prioritize comparative geographical study with the intent of understanding the underlying causes.

Stellenbosch University Fellows

Anthony Martin Andrews

LLM Student, Alternative Dispute Resolution

Stellenbosch University

LLB graduate from Geluksdal, South Africa studying LL.M Alternative Dispute Resolution. Former Speaker of Student Parliament of Stellenbosch selected as the South African Delegate for the 18th Annual Young Diplomat’s Forum in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Anthony holds two Rector’s Awards for Excellent Achievement in Leadership (2018) and Service Provision (2020).

Delecia Davids

Masters Student, Education Policy Studies

Stellenbosch University

Delecia is completing her Masters in Education Policy Studies as a Mandela Rhodes Scholar. She is a part-time lecturer in the Faculty of Education at Stellenbosch University, the speaker curator and licensee of TEDxStellenbosch, and won a TEDx and Skoll Foundation Scholarship in 2018.

Eduard Beukman

MPhil Student, Science and Technology 

Stellenbosch University

Eduard Beukman is a Mandela Rhodes Scholar for his MPhil in Science and Technology Studies, with research interests in the History of Science and Technology in Africa and the Governance of Emerging Science and Technology. He is passionate about social entrepreneurship, martial arts and slightly obsessive about books.

Edward Jr Buys

BEd General Student, Intermediate Phase

Stellenbosch University

Edward Jr Buys is originally from Pretoria. He is in the final year of his Bachelors of Education studies and a prospective postgraduate LLB student at Stellenbosch University. Edward is the founder of a community, Heatwave Platforms, aiding upcoming South African artists in fashion, music, and visual media through content creation and collaboration on social media. He is passionate about contributing towards a sustainable, progressive, and empowering South African society that impacts the world on a global scale.

Kirsten Pienaar

Masters Student, Music

Stellenbosch University

Kirsten Pienaar is a first year Masters student at Stellenbosch University’s Music Department, researching the operas of Roelof Temmingh. In addition to her love of writing, reading and research, Kirsten has a passion for singing. Outside of her Department, you may find her drinking coffee or walking aimlessly around Stellenbosch.

Nienke Osborne

Masters Student, History

Stellenbosch University

An avid coffee-lover and adventure-seeker pursuing a MA in History, Nienke hopes to draw from her undergraduate experience in International Studies, time spent at a local community radio station, and experience as a cabin crew member of an international airline to contextualize the philosophy of Ubuntu within the global context.

Pearl Mamathuba

PhD Candidate, Forensic Facial Identification

Stellenbosch University

PhD candidate in Forensic Facial Identification Department of Visual Arts. Practicing forensic artist, with seven years of service in the field under the South African Police (Forensic Unit). Research Interest: The influence of digital systems in forensic facial identification. Exploring how artificial intelligence technology has shown great potential in automating traditional standard procedures within the field of facial identification showing the increased visual relatability.

Sameera Mahomedy

LLD Candidate, Constitutional Law and Constitutional Property Law

Stellenbosch University

Sameera Mahomedy is an LLD candidate and a research intern at the South African Research Chair in Property Law. Her main areas of research include Constitutional Law and Constitutional Property Law. Her LLD focuses on the role of participation in upgrading informal settlements. She is also currently lecturing Legal Philosophy and advanced Constitutional Law  at Stellenbosch University.

Sikhokele Mbaleni

LLM Student

Walter Sisulu University

Sikhokele Mbaleni is an LLB graduate, enrolled in a Masters of Laws degree at Walter Sisulu University, Mthata, South Africa. He is currently working as a research assistant to the Vice Chancellor and Principal. His duties include, but are not limited to, gathering and analysis of legal research material in the field of child law.

Sizwe Mqalo

Masters Student, African Philosophy in the South African Academy

Stellenbosch University

Sizwe Mqalo, was born in Amakhuzeni village in the Eastern Cape, South Africa. She worked as a community development practitioner in Rhini township in the Eastern Cape, and as a teacher in both childhood and higher education in South Africa and South Korea. Sizwe is currently reading a Masters degree in Philosophy where her research focuses on the decolonising of pedagogical practices of African Philosophy in the South African Academy.

Tayla Minnaar

PhD Candidate, Systematic Theology and Ecclesiology

Stellenbosch University

Tayla Minnaar is a PhD candidate at Stellenbosch University in the Department of Systematic Theology and Ecclesiology, Faculty of Theology. During her time at Stellenbosch University, she provided a teaching role for the Department of Systematic and Ecclesiology Theology as well as in the Practical Theology and Missiology Department through tutoring and assisting in lectures. She has a research interest in ethics, body theology and feminist interpretations. While completing her PhD she works as an online presentation coordinator at 2U, and as an archivist for the Beyers Naude Centre.

Thabani Mtsi

MEng Graduate, Civil Engineering

Stellenbosch University

Thabani “uJojo, uZikhali, uTiyeka ubutsolo beentonga uQocwa” Mtsi is a student of life with a deep reverence for the human experience. He believes in a future where the relationship between self-actualisation and communal development is symbiotic. He uses his skills, talent and knowledge to embody and realise this future.

The Conversations

26 October 2021

How do we listen, and what do we hear when we talk to one another as strangers?

How do we listen? What do we hear? Talking across and about difference – Watch Dr Upenyu Majee, Ubuntu Dialogues Project Manager, Michigan State University welcoming the students.

Setting the tone for the conversations – Lireko Qhobela, Facilitator, Ubuntu Dialogues Student Conversations

Watch the concluding segment of this first conversation.

2 November 2021

What are the things we sit with that are difficult to say – even unspeakable?

Watch the conversation in the ‘common room’.

 Questions guiding this conversation:

  1. Thinking about last week’s introductions, what are the things we heard, but that were not said?
  2. What makes it hard to speak about these issues?
  3. What did you hear about the difficulty to talk about difficult stuff that you did not know before?
  4. How do we speak about the unspeakable in ways that keep us all in the room?

 Watch the conversation in the common room after the students returned from the breakout rooms:

16 November 2021

How do we have conversations about the unsaid, or the unspeakable in a room that contains different points of view?

Watch the conversation in the ‘common room’ about the students’ experiences of talking to people where they live about labelling people.

Questions guiding this conversation:

  1. What are people saying about labels, where you live?
  2. What labels did people reflect on the most?
  3. How do they talk about these labels?
  4. When you talked to people where you come from about labels, who did you not speak to? Why?

What makes it difficult to have a conversation with the people that you chose not to speak to? For example, do they come from a different place than you? Is this ‘place’ just a space, or can ‘place’ also sit in the mind? 

Watch the students back in the common room, talking about who they struggled to talk to:

Watch the conversation in the common room about the experience of stepping into someone else’s shoes:

23 November 2021

How do we continue to have conversations about what we can do together about those problems that are difficult to speak about, or even unspeakable?

Watch the introduction to this conversation in the ‘common room’.

Questions guiding the conversations in the common room:

  1. What did you learn in the past 3 conversations about speaking to people who many not come from the same place/space you come from?
  2. Can you remember when you shifted your position or someone else’s? Can you remember moment of tension in the common room/break out room… what did that look like… the willingness to give something up?

Questions guiding the conversations in the breakout rooms:

  1. What do you know about ubuntu now that you did not know before?
  2. How would that guide you when you find yourself in a difficult conversation space?
  3. Can you imagine intentionally convening conversation topics that came up for you. What would those conversational spaces look like?

Watch the conversation back in plenary:

30 November 2021

Debrief and Reflection

What did we learn? Watch the students talk about the dialogue experience: 

Ruby Quantson – Observations and how to get from talking to action: 

What next?