by Willem Ellis
The median temperature in South Africa (SA) has been rising and I am not referring only to the heat wave that had been beleaguering the sub-continent for the past months. 2016 promises a steady rise in the political temperature with a possible forecast of a perfect political storm. Elements like crucial local government elections; ongoing service delivery protests; a crumbling economy; racial tension; a president beset with ethical problems and a restive civil society guarantees that thunder and lightning will be unavoidable!
Twenty-two years after SA’s transformation to democracy it can be argued that the country is still in a phase of state- and peace-building, with its reconciliation process incomplete. This despite the fact that the SA transition was hailed as a “miracle” and the country had been exporting its conflict resolution skills to countries as far afield as Sudan, Ireland and Nepal. Regular resurgence of xenophobic violence, the ongoing race issue and general lack of trust among groups are examples of wrinkles still to be ironed out. Most South Africans are only now realising that the country’s social fabric is rapidly fraying and that peace- and nation building is not only something that happens in other countries!
|March against Xenophobia, Johannesburg (Photo by Dyltong)|
SA is (in)famous for setting up ad hoc structures to address problems and the current situation is no different. Already there is talk about kick-starting dialogue, organising conferences on race, inequality and the simmering conflict potential within the country. What is to be done? The answer might lie in a fairly recent “trend” in peacebuilding called Infrastructures for Peace (I4P) – the creation of peace- and nation-building initiatives rooted in local dynamics (cultural, historical, structural) and described as the “local turn” by Richmond (2013). Without subtracting from the role played by civil society in such I4P’s, the formalisation of such infrastructures by the state and external actors deserves special attention.
Van Tongeren (2011) states that the idea of peace infrastructure is to develop mechanisms for cooperation among stakeholders, including the government, by promoting co-operative problem-solving and institutionalising response mechanisms to (violent) conflict. Nishanka (2014) posits that organisational elements of such infrastructure can be established at all stages of peace and dialogue processes - during peace-building as well, at all levels of society and with varying degrees of inclusion. Participating parties can be assisted through capacity building, processes of mediation or public participation can be facilitated and agreements’ monitored. I4P’s seem to share the following key characteristics:
1) a domestic foundation;
2) establishment during any stage of peace or dialogue processes;
3) their presence at all levels and peace-building tracks;
4) varying terms of inclusion; and
5) various objectives and functions to be attained and performed through/by those participating. (Nishanka, 2014).
Is this what SA is looking for? If so, we do not have only have to look forward, but also back and relearn the lessons of the past…quickly! SA has flirted with I4P as recently as 1994 on a national basis and 2003 on a provincial basis. Although not as comprehensive as the Accra Declaration of 10 September 2013, envisaging national I4P for all members of ECOWAS, with Ghana taking the lead, some institutional memory of previous efforts remain.
The creation of the National Peace Accord (NPA) in SA in 1991 has received some credit for contributing to a peaceful transition and had a far reaching impact through the establishment of understanding amongst different sections of the SA population – facilitating dialogue, building tolerance and addressing issues of conflict through mediation and problem-solving approaches. The directs and tangible impact of the NPA was seen in the National Peace Secretariat (NPS) with a national secretariat, 1 regional peace committees and 200 local peace committees established country-wide. More than 15 000 peace monitors were trained, international observers hosted and uncounted smaller and larger scale mediation interventions performed. Although not problem free, the NPA did kick-start SA’s first dalliance with I4P – only to be deactivated after the 1994 transition.
In an initiative totally unique in SA, the Free State Centre for Citizenship Education and Conflict Resolution (CCECR) was set up in the Free State province from 1998 – 2003. It was the result of initiatives by ex-NPS members, provincial politicians and international donors. CCECR worked on issues of conflict resolution and human rights as a statutory body of the Free State legislature for five years, doing sterling service – unique for a province in South Africa! Since it closure in 2003, no such initiatives have followed.
Does SA need some form of I4P? I think it definitely does! Does it have to reinvent the wheel in setting it up? Definitely not – just re-learn the lessons from the past.
* Willem Ellis, is based at the Centre for Africa Studies and Department of Political Studies and Governance, University of the Free State, South Africa