“This has been my university.” These were the words spoken by a member of the Department of Community Safety after the close of the workshop on 21 January 2015. Nearly forty participants from the Local Peace Committees in Gauteng and from the City of Johannesburg gathered for a full day workshop as part of the Making All Voices Count project, “From Early Warning to Response in Preventing Conflict: Transforming Conflict through Citizen Engagement.” Facilitated by the ACTION Support Centre, the workshop presented the opportunity for citizens and government to engage in conversation through the use of tools for conflict analysis.
The workshop began with Relationship Mapping, in which three groups each consider a single issue and explored the connections between various stakeholders. In diagramming the relationships between stakeholders, special attention was given to the means of communication which enabled strong relationships, hindered weak relationships, or presented opportunities to strengthen relationships.
The workshop continued with a “Balance of Forces” analysis, in which groups took up the issue at the heart of their relationship map and considered what helping and hindering factors were involved. They considered individuals, groups, structures, institutions, and other factors which either aid in addressing the issue or create challenges.
Overshadowing the workshop, was the incident only two days before in which a boy was shot and killed as a group tried to break into a spaza shop owned by a foreign national. Both members of the Local Peace Committees and employees of the City of Johannesburg received concerning messages about escalating tensions and violence during the workshop. As we closed, these messages were discussed, and the importance of cooperation and collaboration was highlighted. Though there was work to do, there was a spirit of possibility in the room and a strong desire to continue building relationships between the Local Peace Committees and government in order to amplify and address citizen concerns before eruptions of violence.
This was the first of two engagements in the research project, but the engagement between the ACTION Support Centre, the Local Peace Committees, and the City of Johannesburg continues and extends well beyond the scope of these workshops. Strengthened relationships are a critical aspect the transformation agenda and a new vision for our communities and our world.