The Power of Each Citizen

Interview to Dawn Robertson, CEO at Constitution Hill.

Dawn Robertson, CEO of Contitution Hill, Former CEO at the Gauteng Tourism Authority

“Change only happens through the agency of people, and through collective action by people.”

Interviewer: What is Constitution Hill?

Dawn Robertson: Constitution Hill is a former prison complex and war site that was once defined by the gravest of human rights abuses which has now been transformed into the home of the guardian of the Constitution; that being the Constitutional Court. Constitution Hill is a representation of our nation’s capacity for change. A change that can only be driven by the people. It carries the pulse of all South Africans, irrespective of age, colour, creed, gender, or sexual orientation. Practically, it’s a museum that tells the story of South Africa’s journey from colonization, apartheid, to democracy. From exclusion to inclusion. From darkness to light.

Interviewer: Why is active citizenship important for Constitution Hill?

DR: I would answer this by referring to the preamble of the Constitution. On the square at Constitution Hill we wrote the preamble to the Constitution in stone, which starts with “We, the People” and speaks to the fact that the Constitution wouldn’t have been possible without the mass movement — not only locally and regionally but internationally; that change can only happen if people band together. Without this mass movement, which is in essence ‘active citizenship’, Constitution Hill as this idea and this physical site and the Constitution itself would not exist. It speaks to the fact that change only happens through the agency of people, and through collective action by people. We want Constitution Hill to be a place where we are reminded of the power of collective action. The power of each citizen, or each person participating in civic life. It speaks to the fact that the Constitution is only the beginning; it only becomes real if we the people demand for it to be real, and actually roll up our sleeves and do the work that it takes to make the Constitution real, otherwise at the end of the day, it’s a piece of paper. If you look at South African history, then you’ll understand how we got to this place, meaning a constitutional democracy, through the collective action of people. We want to be a place where people understand how change happens, where people understand the sacrifices that were made by ordinary people for our democracy. And for people to use that as fuel to create a better future. That’s how I would say history and active citizenry connect at Constitution Hill.

Photo: Mandela and Gandhi monument. These two cultural and political leaders we both imprisoned at Constitution Hill, during its former lifeas the Old Fort Prison.This monument humanizes these two men by reflecting on scenes from different moments of their lives, making their stories easier to understand and relate to.

Interviewer: How relevant is the use of Internet and multilingual communication for Constitution Hill?

DR: Constitution Hill, especially the Court, was designed to be an inclusive institution. That means that whatever your background is, whatever your culture, religion, race or gender is, you must feel like you belong at Constitution Hill. We must create a sense of belonging for all or visitors and users of the Court, and language is an important way that we do that. If you walk through the Constitutional Court, you’ll see that it’s multilingual. You’ll see that on the doors of the Constitutional Court we’ve incorporated different languages, including sign language and braille. It’s powerful that when people walk in through those doors, they see their language being represented on there, it makes them feel seen by the Court, and that the Court was built with them in mind. It’s a place where we want everyone to feel at ease; the justice system under apartheid was built to alienate the majority of South Africans. Not everyone can visit Constitution Hill, so a digital strategy has become very important so that people can experience the site and our work online. Right now, we haven’t been multilingual in the way that we interact with our visitors online. We hope going forwards, and from the lessons we’ve learned from the WikiAfrica Education project, that we can build content in all the South African languages. Constitution.za has definitely created a space for multilingualism. We hope people will contribute to what we’ve started on that platform.

After lecturing in Arts Education, Dawn Robertson began executive management roles both in national and provincial government in South Africa. She was responsible for the design, development and implementation of the multi-million CreateSA project for the Department of Labour which saw the development of fourteen new qualifications in the creative industries. These enabled thousands of young creatives to achieve a qualification in the arts. One of her greatest challenges was the coordination of the Gauteng 2010 FIFA 2010 World Cup Technical Task Team. Following this, she was appointed Chief Executive Officer at the Gauteng Tourism Authority, the provincial destination marketing organisation, a position she held for five years before then taking up her current portfolio in 2016 as CEO of the Constitution Hill.

This article was originally published in March 2020 in Folios n.2 “We, The People”, the Moleskine Foundation cultural publication.

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Moleskine Foundation

Moleskine Foundation

The Moleskine Foundation is a non-profit organization that believes that Creativity and Quality Education are key to producing positive change in society.