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Peace Research in South Africa

South African society in the late 1990s is still marked by the effects of almost half a century of apartheid policy. Apartheid, the policy of separate development for the different races, became official government policy after the surprise electoral victory of the National Party--though historians already see the beginnings of it in the administrative practices of the Dutch and British colonial rulers. When the government ordered the disbanding of the two black movements of liberation the African National Congress (ANC) and the Pan African Congress of Azania (PAC), an armed struggle for liberation began which only officially came to a close with the handing-over of power in spring 1994.

Against this background, it is not surprising that peace research in South Africa should have concerned itself primarily with this internal conflict. When the last colonies in southern Africa--Angola, Mozambique, and Zimbabwe--were granted independence, the proxy wars being waged in these countries at the behest of the apartheid government also became a concern. An outstanding role was played here by the South African Institute of Race Relations (SAIRR), founded as early as the 1920s, and also the Institute for a Democratic South Africa (IDASA). Though these privately financed research-institutes are not research-institutes in the narrower sense, they none the less make an important contribution to the understanding of racial conflicts. They were closely associated the liberal middle classes and supported the idea of political power-sharing for the majority coloured population. The discourse at the state universities during the 1960s, meanwhile, was split along linguistic lines: in the English-speaking universities of Witwatersrand (Johannesburg), Cape Town, and Natal (Durban) an increasingly radical alternative to the system was being formulated, mainly under the leadership of the Marxist-influenced social-sciences faculties; critical voices in the traditionally conservative Afrikaans-speaking universities (Stellenbosch, Pretoria), on the other hand, were to be heard more in the theological faculties.

The largely peaceful transformation in South Africa in the first half of the 1990s is a remarkable study in the possibilities of peaceful conflict-resolution. There is no doubt that extensive sanctions and the international anti-apartheid movement played a major role in bringing about the apartheid regime's turn-around. The process of transformation and the efforts to keep the radical forces on both sides at the negotiating table ended in the first general election of April 1994. Leading South African peace-researchers like Jannie Malan and Vasu Gounden were directly involved in this process. Whereas previously, political emancipation occupied centre-stage, the main concern now is to overcome the economic divide between the races. The renewed outbreak of conflict between hostile political parties in KwaZulu-Natal and a series of brutal murders of white farmers have added fuel to the fire, and the deteriorating economic situation has led to a dramatic increase in crime.

Externally, the ANC-led government has endeavoured to export the South African model of democratization and conflict resolution to the surrounding region. This `new start' policy has become known by the watchword `African renaissance', coined by the South African vice-president, Thabo Mbeki. For a time, it looked as if South Africa would break with its hegemonial tradition and aim for a regional system of collective defence within the framework of the South African Development Community (SADC). However, following the failure of this policy in the attempts to resolve the conflicts in Congo-Zaire and Angola, one now has the impression that, as the Mandela magic fades and normality sets in, South Africa is reverting to a policy aimed at securing a position of supremacy.[1] This trend is being fostered by the `export successes' of the influential South African arms-industry, which has managed almost to treble the volume of its exports as compared with the apartheid era.

Against the background of these new challenges, it is worth taking a look at the institutional structure of peace research in South Africa. Although a great deal was published about South Africa during the apartheid era, much of the research involved was done in institutes outside the country, with the result that only parts of South Africa's very varied research-landscape are known outside the country. In addition, many institutes only came into being in the 1990s--to some extent in the wake of the changes. The lack of an umbrella-organization also makes it difficult to get a complete overview of the institutional situation. Many peace and conflict researchers in the university sphere do, however, form part of the South African Political Studies Association (SAPSA), whose meetings and publications regularly deal with the subject of conflict research. Whereas SAPSA is more academically oriented, South Africans as a Conflict Resolution Resource to Africa (SACRRA) aims to create a network of individuals from the conflict-research sphere at both national and regional levels.

The following organizational overview distinguishes between: independent research-institutes; bodies that are mainly devoted to active conflict-resolution; and academic research and teaching. However, making a clear-cut division is difficult--two of the `independent' research-institutes, for example, are part of universities and also engage in active conflict-resolution.

Research Institutes

Since its foundation in 1992, the African Centre for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes (ACCORD), under the direction of Vasu Gounden, has played an important role in the political transformation of South Africa. Located on the campus of the University of Durban-Westville in the troubled province of KwaZulu-Natal, the centre spent the first four years of its existence training peace monitors and election observers, as part of the National Peace Accords, and providing training in the police and legal services, with a view to equipping staff in these two areas to deal with local conflicts. With its yearly African Peace Award, ACCORD honours individuals who have rendered outstanding services to peace in Africa. By sending international teams to, amongst other places, Somalia, Burundi, Nicaragua, and Sri Lanka, the centre seeks to pass on South African conflict-resolution experiences to other countries. A comprehensive data-bank on Africa is currently being compiled. In 1997, ACCORD set up the Preventive Diplomacy Forum, a kind of `rapid response force' for the peaceful resolution of conflicts. The centre publishes the African Journal of Peace Research as well as the `ACCORD Occasional Papers' and the `Preventive Diplomacy' series. It also maintains a documentation centre. In the medium term, ACCORD aims to set up a permanent Conflict Prevention Centre as a research and training centre for the whole continent. By being involved in the organization of the seventeenth conference of the International Peace Research Association (IPRA) in June 1998, the centre was able to make itself better known outside Africa.

The Centre for Conflict Resolution (CCR) at the University of Cape Town plays a role similar to that of ACCORD. Founded as long ago as 1968 under the name `Centre for Intergroup Studies', it works at the regional, national, and continental levels. It provides training for police officers in South Africa and Zimbabwe, it trains mediators/facilitators, and, under a scheme called `Project Saamspan', it has set up regional mediation-teams in rural areas in Cape Province. On the international front, CCR mediators have been active in Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and the Great Lakes region. The focus of CCR's work lies in the domains of disarmament, peacekeeping, and regional security. In collaboration with IDASA, the centre is monitoring the reform of the South African armed forces. The quarterly periodical track two--published jointly with the Media Peace Centre--provides information on `constructive approaches to community and political conflict'.

Unlike ACCORD and CCR, the Institute of Security Studies (ISS) was set up privately. Initially founded in 1990 as the Institute for Defence Policy, in Halfway House in Johannesburg, it finances its work from membership fees and subsidies from private and public donors. Again in contrast to ACCORD and CCR, the institute's main area of interest--as the name itself indicates--falls within a more classic definition of security. Many of its staff are former soldiers, so it is natural that there should be a preoccupation with military issues. Three areas--regional security, small-arms control/culture of violence, and crime/police work--form the focal points of the institute's work. In the crime sphere, the institute is compiling a comprehensive crime-index (Nedcor/ISS Crime Index). This is intended, in the medium term, to provide a clear picture of the real extent of crime in South Africa. As well as holding regular conferences and workshops, the institute publishes its findings in the bi-monthly African Security Review and in the occasional `ISS Papers' and `ISS Monographs'. Since 1997, the ISS has also offered its services on a commercial basis, in order to reduce its dependence on subsidies. If successful, this advisory service will, in the near future, be converted into a private company.

The Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation (CSVR) in the Braamfontein district of Johannesburg is similarly not attached to any academic institution. As well as organizing monthly seminars and occasional conferences, the centre focuses on the field of trauma research. The CVSR offers victims of violence advice and also does work in the field of democracy and reconciliation. It also produces training materials (videos) and study programmes for political education.

As well as specialized research establishments, there are a whole range of institutions that deal with conflict research in the wider sense. Mention should be made in particular of the South African Institute of Race Relations (SAIRR), which has established itself as one of the most influential think-tanks in the country. The Institute for a Democratic South Africa (IDASA) works along similar lines, though with a greater emphasis on democratization.

Practical Conflict-Resolution

The political changes in South Africa have pointed up an urgent need for facilitators and trainers in the field of conflict resolution. These individuals do mediation work, especially in disputes within and between local entities. Over the last few years, an increased demand has also emerged in the area of industrial disputes, and mediators/facilitators are increasingly playing an arbitrating role in this area.

A good example of this aspect of peace work is provided by the Independent Mediation Service of South Africa (IMSSA). With 43 permanent employees and over 400 freelance workers active throughout the country (engaged in mediation, arbitration, and training), the IMSSA is one of the largest independent institutions in private conflict-resolution. It mainly provides services to companies, mediating between employees and management and also in conflicts between companies--for which purpose it maintains a network of specially trained experts. In addition, the IMSSA offers training programmes in mediation and publishes the IMSSA Review. As well as its headquarters in Johannesburg, the organization has offices in Cape Town, East London, and Port Elizabeth.

In the same field, mention should also be made of the Centre for Peace Action, which is involved mainly in the school and youth areas and also runs an advice centre for pregnant teenagers. Community Conflict Management and Resolution in Johannesburg runs training courses for local mediators/facilitators, as does the Community Dispute Resolution Trust. Similar work is done by Future Links in Cape Town, the Human Rights Trust in Port Elizabeth, and the Independent Project Trust in Durban. The South African body responsible for tertiary distance-education--the University of South Africa (UNISA)--offers similar courses by distance-learning. In contrast to other courses, these are deliberately aimed at a broad public.

Teaching and Research

Surprisingly, only relatively few universities offer peace/conflict studies as part of their standard programmes of study. The University of Port Elizabeth is the only university in South Africa offering courses at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels. In 1997, the Institute for the Study and Resolution of Conflict (ISRC) joined forces with the Department of Political Science to launch an interdisciplinary course leading to the title `Master in Conflict and Conflict Resolution'. The course consists of six modules (Conflict in Human Society, Conflict Processes, Conflict Types, Conflict Resolution, Conflict Management Strategies, and Methodology), a practical component, and a dissertation which, where appropriate, can be supplemented by a further practical component.

Besides the institutions previously mentioned--ACCORD, the CCR, and the Peace Education Centre at UNISA--the ISRC is the only institute that deals exclusively with peace research. However, a number of other universities offer individual courses in this area--mostly at the postgraduate level and in collaboration with faculties of political science. These bodies include the University of Durban-Westville and the University of Natal in Durban (both working with ACCORD). At the University of Stellenbosch, there is one professor (Du Toit) working chiefly on theoretical conflict-research, and one lecturer (Professor Willi Breytenbach) dealing with conflicts in Africa. A choice of compulsory modules in the field of `Conflict Studies' is offered to students of political science and international relations.

At ACCORD's regional offices in the University of the Western Cape (UWC) in Bellville, Cape Town, Professor Jannie Malan offers an interdisciplinary postgraduate course in `Conflict Studies'. Also located on the UWC campus is the Centre for South African Studies, directed by Professor Peter Vale. The centre's `Occasional Papers Series' has published a number of texts on issues relating to regional security.

Similar courses are probably offered at other universities in South Africa. In 1994, ACCORD carried out a comprehensive survey of the courses on offer in southern Africa[2] and listed twenty universities in South Africa and a further ten in Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe which offered relevant programmes of study. Unfortunately, there is no more up-to-date survey on this topic--but it may be assumed that, following the peaceful change in South Africa, interest in this subject is likely to have receded. One example of this is the fact that a course co-developed with ACCORD for five `historically black universities' has been in abeyance since 1996 because of cut-backs and student unrest.

Despite all the difficulties, South African peace research remains a very rich and varied part of the international research-landscape--and the holding of the seventeenth IPRA conference in Durban in June 1998 gave it an opportunity to present itself to a broad international audience of experts. The African continent, after all, is characterized not only--as Afro-pessimists like to claim--by an endless series of wars and humanitarian catastrophes, but also by the ability to overcome these. The world has South Africa to thank for four Nobel peace-prize winners this century. One of them, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, is on record as stating that `Africans have this thing called UBUNTU: it is about the essence of being human, it is part of the gift that Africa will give the world. We believe a person is a person through another person. When I dehumanize you, I inexorably dehumanize myself.'[3]

In this connection, our short-lived industrial society has much to learn from a continent unjustly dubbed as `Dark'.

Wolf-Christian Paes (Stellenbosch/Bonn)


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