October Highlights

Highlights of the last month include a UNDP meeting in Morocco, which addressed the importance of insider mediators and those equipped with local knowledge to address local problems, a discussion suggesting that perhaps Africa has something to teach Europe when it comes to handling refugees and immigrants, and the stories we are hearing from refugee women in South Africa. 

In Morocco, the ASC took part in a UNDP meeting on the role of Insider Mediators during conflict. Contrary to theories advocating so-called “neutral” external mediators, there is a growing understanding that insider mediators who are familiar with the context, have significant value in conflict situations. Similarly, existing local infrastructures for peace, which are embedded in local knowledge, can form part of long term structures and systems that transform relationships and contribute to peace.

Many such individuals and organisations exist, and are able to make an impact because they are grounded in the contexts in which they work. For example, we recently received word from Grace to Heal, a sister organisation based in Zimbabwe, who shared news with us of a peacebuilding conference they hosted there, focussing on the questions of action research and peace studies in the country. It was a conference that brought together students, academics and practitioners, in a bid to unpack what an effective peace education would look like, and discuss practical strategies to make this a reality in Zimbabwe.

In South Africa, The ACTION staff working on the Listening Voices project have continued meeting with Somali women, listening to their stories and documenting them to be shared in the Listening Voices publication. Some extracts of the stories have been shared in this article. The team has also been meeting with a few of the Somali men and other refugees, to see how their stories compare, and to help paint a dynamic picture of refugee life.

Given the ASC’s on going work with migrant and refugee communities, members attended a dialogue hosted by the Southern African Liaison Office, taking a look at the global migrant crisis. The influx of Syrian refugees into Europe has dominated the news on this front, leading to much questioning of the way Europe is handling this crisis. Many of the participants felt the Europe was doing a poor job, bickering amongst themselves about responsibility and being motivated by hidden agendas when they do help. Participants noted that Africa has also experienced high numbers of refugees and immigrants, but seems to have managed this better than Europe. It was suggested that Europe could learn a few lessons from Africa.

Indeed, it’s important that wherever we are and whatever crises we might be facing, we seek to learn from those doing better, and teach others when we are the more effective ones. The ASC attended a workshop held by the Co-operative for Research and Education (CORE) focusing on identifying scarce and critical skills in the NGO sector. Results of a survey were shared, showing that out of 24 African countries, South Africa scored the highest for sustainability of Civil Society Organisations in various areas. Such reports are important for gauging the strength of CSOs, and yield important lessons and insights, which can be used for strengthening CSO sectors in other countries.

With the importance of civil society and collaboration in mind, The ASC hosted delegates from the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies (SIIS), as well as a diverse range of local participants for a discussion on China-Africa cooperation, and civil society engagement. Although there are mixed views, it was noted that it is possible to find unity in diversity, and there is a need for civil society to express themselves as the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation Summit approaches.

As 2015 is drawing to a close, it is a time of reflecting on progress and challenges still to be overcome. The Orange Farm Local Peace Committee, with whom the ASC works closely, has shared their annual report with us, documenting many of the accomplishments and key lessons from the year. These included dialogues, cultural learning events, skills programmes, conflict analysis training, activities opposing xenophobia and many more. During the year, many important relationships have also been built, enabling Orange Farm LPC and the youth desk to garner support from those of influence who can help take the work forward.

The Orange Farm LPC as well as the other LPCs that we work with are examples of those tirelessly working towards peace and harmony within their localities. The Peace Builders Awards Ceremony, on the 21st of November in Johannesburg will recognize and validate the work of individuals and groups such as these. Nominations for the awards are still open, so if there are people making a difference in your community and you would like to nominate them for a peace award, send us their story and relevant details.

Finally, it is with sadness that we announce the passing of 2 great peacebuilders. Georgina Rangel passed away on the 26th of October. She was known in Mexico, Guatemala and the Americas, where she supported refugees and fought for women’s rights, girls education, and for justice and peace. Obby Chibuluma, who passed on the 30th of October, was an active member of the ACTION for Conflict Transformation network, dedicated to pan-African solidarity and committed to regional efforts to bring about positive change and peace. Hamba Kahle Amaqabane, you will be missed.