As a practicing psychotherapist, Rogers explains how he facilitates what he terms mutual communication between opposing people by having them first restate the other’s views to that person’s satisfaction before then continuing with their own concerns (1952). This works to deescalate arguments, especially when facilitated with a neutral third-person party. Each side feels that they have had their concerns thoroughly heard and understood, and an understanding between the two can be reached. While he notes that he has only studied this tactic in small-scale scenarios, Rogers suggests that it could have significant results if adapted for larger, even international level situations.
When I set out on this trip, my research was concerned with looking at how democracy had been implemented and tailored to suit the needs of a non-western country, especially looking at whether there were significant differences to implementations by western countries. The western countries—using specifically the three revolutionary countries of the United States, France, and Haiti—have a strong focus on freedom and liberty. South Africa, by contrast, places the emphasis on equality. First during the apartheid struggle, it was a need for racial equality. Now in the post-apartheid society, the need for economic equality is the dominant struggle, risen out of the institutional legacy of apartheid.
Democracy satisfied the first need. The African National Congress (ANC) was explicitly focused on the de-racialization of South Africa. This was accomplished, at least formally, with the writing of the constitution and formation of the new government. While racial privilege certainly still has substantial effect in the country, there are no longer explicit laws requiring segregation and causing dehumanization. It is now the second need that challenges the new government.
While reading the Rogers article, I could not help but remember the miners and the Merikana massacre. They went through all the appointed avenues to lodge complaint over their unacceptably low wages, and yet were met with appalling violence. Could Rogers’ model of communication, had it been employed, accomplished anything different in this situation of inequality and injustice? Honestly, probably not. I’m sure that the employers knew exactly what the miners wanted: actual wages. They simply did not care about the miners and only cared about their own purses. But I do think that using the model of achieving mutual communication could help on a larger scale, especially involving the violence used by the disadvantaged side. One thing the Fees Must Fall students pointed out is the history of violence used against the disadvantaged sides before they themselves respond with violence. How much of that reaction could actually be termed self-defense is probably a valid and worthwhile discussion.
In these situations I believe Rogers’ model could be of use to aid the fight against inequality, and democracy could be a workable facilitator. Indeed, in the judicial system this very structure seems to be playing out. A repeated theme throughout our trip was that despite the buying out of various politicians and political parties, the courts remained fairly independent. This independent branch of government serves as the third-party suggested by Rogers—hearing both sides of an argument. The courts also then decide between the two, and the danger is that one side may still feel as though they were not given a fair hearing; this is where the comparison breaks down. Whether aspects of the court proceedings were modified to facilitate a focus on understanding (instead of ruling) between two parties, or another organization was set up under a different branch of government, the flexibility of a democratic government provides various opportunities for such a model to develop, if pursued persistently. This could provide a much-needed space for the disadvantaged to have their stories heard, whether they are the students fighting for education access, or the poverty-stricken lower working class demanding livable wages.
Rogers, Carl. “Communication: Its Blocking and Facilitation.” A Review of General Semantics, vol. 9, no. 2, 1952. pp 83-88, www.jstor.org/stable/42581028. Accessed 20 Jan. 2018.