Applied Conflict Transformation Course

ASC hosted the Applied Conflict Transformation (ACT) course form the 5th – 9th May 2014 in Johannesburg. The course seeks to engage practitioners, policy-makers, governments, institutions and members of its global networks in a weeklong learning exchange. During the course ASC welcomed 17 participants from different countries around the African continent, including: South Sudan, Lesotho, Malawi, Gabon, Zimbabwe, the United Kingdom, South Africa, Canada, Swaziland, Namibia, Somalia, Kenya and Lesotho. 10 participants were women and 7 were men, with youth activists, human rights advocates, governance professionals and senior academics sitting side by side, sharing their stories and learning together.

The course aims to promote people-centered approaches to transforming conflicts through a process of learning, sharing and working together at all levels and to do this in a way that builds trust and creates a culture of peace. The course uses a variety of approaches to learning, including facilitation, group discussions, case study presentations from various specialist resource persons and field visits. Conflict is seen as a source of energy, with the potential to bring the change we need. We learn how to understand it, how to use it, and how to use the relationships we form to manage it, to harness it, and to transform it. We focus on individuals, and organisations. Most essentially, we work to build relationships. These include relationships between individuals, organisations, movements and policymakers.

The ACT course is a highly participatory learning exchange between participants, benefitting from a rich range of resource professionals and visits to places of historical and contemporary significance in South Africa. The course outline is tailored in response to needs identified by the participants themselves, through the application process.

A transformative approach to social conflict requires strong collaborative partnerships between individuals, organisations, institutions and the systems within which they exist. In line with this approach, the University of Johannesburg (UJ) and the ACTION Support Centre (ASC) have nurtured a cooperative and collaborative partnership, which recently led to their co-hosting a stimulating afternoon of dialogue and debate. A panel of speakers was invited to discuss various issues, which contributed enormously to the learning process. Discussions following the various presentations pointed to the necessity of strengthening Africa’s regional bodies and restoring Africa’s agency through African action. There was a call for African solutions to African problems.

Furthermore, the well researched and challenging presentations delivered by each of the four panelists highlighted the multiple connections and perspectives needing to be factored into analysis of social, economic, political and environmental conflict. A strong need for cooperation and collaboration between civil society, organisations, institutions and governments emerged from the discussion, with a need to improve access to education and consider our common humanity and humility at the core of this change. ACT course participants and the audience as a whole had an opportunity to strengthen their individual and mutual networks and consider how best to put the lessons learned into practice.

During the course, the team of facilitators shared their collective experiences working in conflict transformation within Southern Africa, across the continent, throughout the Middle East and North African regions and globally; drawing on powerful examples of social transformation in action around the world and the importance of strong networks.

In addition, field visits to the Apartheid Museum and Constitutional Hill highlighted the South African history and experience as a case study for all of the participants. Both guided visits provided powerful visual images of South Africa’s journey through struggle towards democracy, and consideration of this case study further strengthened the application of our analyses.

ASC recognises a deep need to develop long-term strategies to transform society and promote appreciation and respect of cultural diversity at all levels of society. The intention of all 17 participants to “be the change they want to see in the world”, and to apply the lessons learned throughout the 5-day course to themselves as individuals, and to the contexts in which they originate, is truly powerful. Participants managed to come up with a vision for Africa, the Africa they would want to see in the future. The result is the strengthening of a network of conflict transformation practitioners and a collective with a focus on the belief that a world free from inequality, violence and oppression is possible, and that each of us accepts a responsibility to contribute to that change.

These workshops created an open platform for people to share their experiences and learn about conflict transformation in an environment that was respectful and welcoming of debate. Feedback from all participants spoke to a valuable learning experience and many thanked ASC for the opportunity, describing their journey as life changing, empowering and inspiring.