Zimbabwean conference addresses need for peace education

Dumie Ngwenya, from Grace To Heal, is a member of the ACTION network, and has shared this update from a crucial peacebuilding conference in Zimbabwe with us.

Grace To Heal was privileged to host the peacebuilding conference, possibly the first of its nature in Zimbabwe. It brought together grassroots peace practitioners, peace studies lecturers and students from several universities around Zimbabwe. A total of 60 people participated in the conference which was sponsored by Durban University of Technology department and Good Governance Africa. The uniqueness of this conference lay in the fact that the presentations were not just theoretical and abstract but very practical and included lots of small group discussions after every presentation. These discussions were enriched by the crosspollination of ideas and worldviews between the students, academics and practitioners. The students’ enthusiasm and energy added a refreshing dynamic to the whole process; without them the tone of the conference would have been very different.

The conference focused on three main topics, the use of action research in peacebuilding, the question of what kind of peace studies Zimbabwe needs, and strategies for promoting peace studies in Zimbabwe. Below is a summary from one of the conference participants.

“Five points stood out for me. First, the study of peace is about personal change, about adopting peace as a way of life, as opposed to developing intellectual understanding. Among the many questions which addressed this was one by Dr Ray Motsi, the Director of the Theological College of Zimbabwe – ‘How can we make peace studies come alive for students?’

Second, peacebuilding is more than just understanding why a conflict is taking place. It goes further by designing and implementing an intervention to bring about change. Dr Sylvia Kaye’s presentation on action research spoke strongly to this point and the use of action research seems very likely to expand in Zimbabwe! This aspect of peacebuilding arouses discomfort in the authorities, as they see it as a threat to their power.

Third, in encouraging change, we need to be aware of the tensions between hope and fear. When change is on the agenda, there will be some who fear that they will lose out. Can we allay their fears? Do we need to ‘compensate’ them in some way? How can we demonstrate the net benefits of change, even if there are some losers?

Fourth, again from Ray Motsi, we need to provide an African context for the study of peace, to link it to the already existing cultural practices which promote restorative justice and focus on rebuilding the relationships between those in conflict.

Fifth, a challenging quote from Desmond Tutu – ‘If we want to build peace, we shouldn’t be talking to our friends; we should be talking to our enemies’. “

Participants expressed the need to have more conferences of this type in the future.

Grace To Heal (GTH) is a faith-based peacebuilding organisation involved in trauma healing, mediation and conflict transformation at grassroots level in Zimbabwe.