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Who are we?
The drivers of this initiative are passionate and committed citizens who want contribute constructively to the well-being of our country. We are supported by the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation and the In Transformation Initiative.
Assuming that this is a widely-shared national aspiration, the project seeks to propose some concrete ideas for consideration by government, business and civil society leaders on steps to unify and mobilise South Africans behind the goals of dignity, social inclusion and equality.
There are strong indications that South African society is experiencing increasing fragmentation. At leadership level, the three tiers of government, organised labour, business, civil society, faith communities, and even society at large are displaying deepening and potentially debilitating fault lines.
Ongoing attacks against citizens from other African countries residing in South Africa are symptoms of deeper systemic problems. Calls for national dialogue are indeed a step in the right direction, because the underlying causes of systemic problems can only be resolved through deep dialogues and urgent action at various levels. The basis of concrete action by citizens and government is informed by the common understanding that emerges from these dialogues.
It is our considered opinion that the time has come to acknowledge that these schisms have developed beyond normal democratic contestation and debate. The profound lack of cohesion, together with a growing skepticism that South Africa will automatically self-correct, are beginning to threaten our democratic gains, most importantly, the common resolve to build an inclusive and fair society from the ruins of apartheid. The question becomes: what can be done to inspire South Africans to unify once again, this time explicitly with the aim to build a more equal, peaceful society that affirms the dignity of and justice for all? How can we come to a conversation on a “common social project”, based on a new framework of interaction, while accepting that painful issues of power and asymmetry remain? How can we learn from the mistakes of the past and create an irreversible momentum towards a common future?
It is our assumption that South Africans are able to devise effective solutions to transform these challenges into opportunities for genuine change. We believe that it is therefore eminently possible to effect socio-political and societal change with more urgency and efficiency, should stakeholders regain the requisite trust in one another to collaborate effectively.
South Africa has proven that it is capable of coming together to resolve deep rooted conflicts when it signed and implemented a National Peace Accord, which facilitated spaces for ongoing political dialogue, conflict resolution and even political competition and paved the way for the celebrated multi-party negotiations and eventually a democratic and peaceful dispensation. Is it possible to re-create a national mechanism with a clear mandate and nation-wide support from government, business and civil society?
Previous and current best practices
African Heads of State called for the establishment of National Institutions for Prevention and Management of Conflict as far back as 2002. One of the Key Performance Indicators would be to:
“Establish by 2004, national institutions or mechanisms for prevention, management and resolution of conflicts at community and national levels with active involvement of Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) and Community Based Organisations (CBOs). It should include indigenous conflict resolution mechanisms, Emergency Relief Assistance and confidence building measures between ethnic, racial and national groups. Such institutions could be national focal points for regional and continental early warning.”
Thirteen years later, only Ghana, Kenya and South Sudan have heeded the call of the African Heads of State. How would Africa’s ability to deal with conflict been different if these mechanisms were indeed implemented?
Ghana has established a National Peace Council, supported by Parliamentary Act 818, as an independent state mechanism to facilitate the prevention of conflicts. The statutory mandate of the NPC is
“to facilitate and develop mechanisms for conflict prevention, management, resolution and to build sustainable peace in the country.” The NPC aims to “promote the values of reconciliation, tolerance, trust and confidence building, mediation and dialogue as responses to conflict”.
Having established offices in all the regions of Ghana, the NPC pursues 6 strategic objectives:
- To coordinate and harmonize all peace actors and initiatives within Ghana;
- To promote understanding of peace for behavioural change;
- To facilitate prevention and management of electoral violence;
- To prevent tensions from erupting into conflict;
- To manage conflicts so as to contain and limit further violent escalation; and
- To identify root causes and resolve conflict.
According to Prof Clever Nyathi, who was instrumental in the establishment of the NPC,
“the dialogues leading to the establishment of the NPC moved from organizational learning to action and to institution-creation. It required active civil society participation, patience, resilience and champions—and a relentless push for political and citizen commitment.”
Zimbabwe, Kenya and South Sudan are all making good progress with their own locally grown conflict resolution mechanisms. Prof Nyathi personally engaged senior politicians and civil society and facilitated the crafting of a whole new chapter on the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission in the 2013 Constitution of Zimbabwe.
South Africa’s National Peace Accord was limited in scope, but exceeded the expectations as a national mechanism for the peaceful resolution of conflicts. Dialogue, mediation and negotiation were, albeit for the duration of the NPA's limited life-span of three years (1991-1994), the preferred strategies to build peace. An elaborate and effective infrastructure/peace architecture was developed at local and regional levels. Communities, interest groups and politicians had access to resources, expertise and local mechanisms where, under the leadership of credible bi-partisan chairpersons, burning and potentially dangerous issues were resolved peacefully. These regional and local peace committees provided safe spaces for belligerents to explore peaceful alternatives to violence; and healing and justice for those who suffered injustice and oppression. The repealing of the National Peace Accord Act in 1994 unintentionally led to the gradual disappearance of constructive dialogue spaces in favour of political competition and destructive contestation.
South Africa have started a national discussion with representatives from all sectors of society during 2012 on the issue of social cohesion. That process has been stalled and new impetus is required to ensure that the process gets back on track. To achieve success, government cannot be held responsible on its own, but partnerships between relevant and important sectors are crucial to ensure that mistakes of the past are not repeated.
Now, more than ever, is the appropriate time to push for a concerted effort to redesign and develop a national mechanism for the peaceful transformation of conflict and the eradication of the causes thereof.
The focus is, therefore, to achieve restoration of the dignity of all who live in South Africa regardless of age, gender or creed; to achieve peace, stability, unity and prosperity for individuals, their families, communities, organizations and the country as a whole.
Research and case studies from best practices suggest that the following principles should guide our actions:
- Adequate preparation, inclusion, ownership and participation: Those whose healing, peace and justice are pursued should be included in the design, preparation and implementation of the peace efforts.
- Creativity and volunteerism: Unleashing the creativity of citizens through inviting them to contribute in various ways is crucially important.
- Non-partisan leadership: Political structures should support but not lead or claim credit for the initiative.
- Mandate: A broad-based mandate should be sought and given at local, regional and national levels.
- Coherence: Government policies and programmes, and civil society initiatives should be aligned around key fundamental human rights, needs, values and purposes.
- Credible convenor: A credible convenor (person/group of persons or a mandated institution) should enjoy the trust of the widest possible range of stakeholders.
- Credible facilitation: The process should be facilitated by a team of gender balanced inter-generational facilitators who are able to lead the process professionally and build trust and momentum.
- Collaborative and collective leadership: Politicians, economic actors and civil society leaders should demonstrate political will and collaboration to establish and support a non-partisan conflict resolution mechanism across ideological and and other divides.
- Organic development and linkages: Efforts to build peace will be stronger when they build on existing initiatives. Citizens and local/provincial government counterparts should be encouraged to develop home-grown mechanisms, which eventually can be linked and aligned to a national mechanism.
- Research: Current research should continuously inform, support and monitor the development and implementation of a national mechanism.
Some process ideas and action steps towards building momentum
In the pursuit of creating a supportive process to give new impetus and insure renewed dedication to the already government established “national dialogue on social cohesion mechanism” that hopes to facilitate dialogue and mediation in South Africa, we propose the following steps to start this “parallel but supportive conversation”:
- Facilitation and communication: Establish a small, credible facilitation team and interim secretariat to coordinate, manage and facilitate the following processes as well as managing a flawless communication strategy with all stakeholders.
- Convenors: Identify a diverse group of not more than 15 key leaders from government, business and civil society to convene a national peace mechanism design consultation. These leaders do not have to “represent” their institutions — their ideas are more important — but will play a leadership role, providing direction and oversight. The same steps can be taken at regional and local levels.
- Professional expertise: Lean on seasoned national and international conflict transformation practitioners to help guide the process as advisors.
- Preparation, inclusion and participation: In preparation of such a process, encourage civil society organisations, business, academics, faith communities, and other interest groups to embark on a nation-wide consultation process to hear “the heartbeat of the nation” on matters of peace; the underlying systemic causes of inequality, poverty and violence; and concrete ideas on a sustainable mechanism to build justpeace, i.e. peace with justice and justness.
- Policy framework: The aggregated responses from the consultation process provide the basis for the development of a broad policy framework. Such a framework creates an enabling environment to facilitate the development of mechanisms for dialogue or conversations amongst people at local and national level. The framework should also describe possible programmes and / or projects which would lead to peace and conflict as well as social, political and religious reconciliation and transformative dialogue engagements.
- Political will: The convenors and facilitators engage key senior politicians, academics, business, the media, and other relevant civil society leaders on an ongoing basis to secure political will and commitment to establish a national mechanism for conflict resolution.
- Mandate: Convene a national peace mechanism design indaba where the design is discussed, tested and recommended for implementation.
- Institutionalisation: Develop a white paper on a contextualised and indigenous equivalent of the Ghana National Peace Council and accompany the process towards the passing of a Bill in Parliament.
- Implementation: Key facilitators assist the newly formed mechanism with organisational development support, as well as the interview process for Commissioners and Secretariat Staff.
- Support: Provide ongoing coordination and support throughout the process.
Draft by Chris Spies, based on consultations with IJR and ITI colleagues
20 April 2015
20 April 2015