In Between Spaces: Reflecting on the 2018 Popular Education Network Conference, Lebogang Maragelo

12 Jul 2018 - 21:30

In Between Spaces: Reflecting on the 2018 Popular Education Network Conference - Lebogang Maragelo

“I’m really starting to enjoy this conference, and it isn’t for the reasons I had foreseen”, these were the words of my deeply reflective colleague a few hours into our second day at the 2018 Popular Education Network (PEN) Conference. She didn't need to explain any further than that single sentence because I understood her as soon as she said it. Her comment spoke to what we have come to call the ‘in between spaces’. Before I indulge you further on what she meant, I will tell you a little bit about what we were doing at Goedgedacht Farm for two nights in the middle of winter.

PEN is an international network of various stakeholders which include academics, activists and researchers- all of whom engage in one way or another with popular education as a pedagogy that is committed to resisting unjust uses of power. The purpose of this network is to “is to defend the radical margins of university adult and community education as well as serve to sustain a sense of solidarity and common purpose”. This year was PEN’s eighth international conference and, interestingly, it was the first one hosted outside of Europe so there was definitely an air of expectation that it would be one for the books. Whether it was that, is something each participant had to decide for themselves.

The theme of this conference was ‘Engaging (with) Power’ and the purpose of the theme, I believe, was to encourage thinking around some of the ways popular education can be used as a tool to understand, engage and ultimately disrupt structural injustices and those with the power to continue its perpetuation.

The three day conference can be described as a whirlwind of workshops and plenaries with the very enticing topics (e.g. “Pedagogies of conflict and division: Learning with the Enemy”). Yet what stood out the most for me was that much of my learning took place outside of the actual presentations and workshops. It was the contributions and comments from audience members in the workshops, or the brief dialogues over tea that truly left me feeling enlightened.

This brings me to what my colleague meant when she said she had enjoyed the conference but for unforeseen reasons. The point was that we had arrived at the conference with the expectation of deriving new knowledges from the presentations and workshops PEN had organised, yet we were left in awe- not by the workshops themselves but- by the critical comments and contributions of participants such as Lindelwa Nxu. Comments sometimes hurriedly made in between travelling from one presentation room to another.

This article is as much a reflection on the PEN conference as it is an ode to the Lindelwa Nxu’s of the world. Those people whose voices articulate the struggle of the silenced, those who by merely existing unapologetically give everyone else the courage and strength to do the same, those who remain constructively critical and by doing so remind us that it is not yet uhuru. To all those unsung heroes we only ever meet briefly in between spaces, the likes of Lindelwa Nxu, Gubela Mji, Zamalotshwa Mthusi Sefatsa, Injairu Kulundu, Lunathi Ngwane and many more- thank you. Thank you for making my PEN experience worthwhile.

Lebogang Maragelo: Postgraduate LLb student at the University of Cape Town, Intern at the Global Citizenship Programme at the University of Cape Town, and occasional Writer.

Twitter: @Lebo_maragelo. LinkedIn: Lebogang Maragelo.