OUR SUCCESS - A history of achievements

To date over +460 000 people have been involved in participating directly in solving conflicts in their communities – this means that nearly half a million people have had the experience of shifting their stance from one of dependency to one of responsibility and of moving from an orientation of blame to one that is focused on creating a new future.

Our Community Peace Programme started in 1997, when the Community Peace Programme began a pilot project together with the community of Zwelethemba, a suburb of Worcester in the Western Cape of South Africa, who had been very active against apartheid, however the 20 000 people remained poor and under-resourced.

The aim in the pilot site was to help build a stable and peaceful community, drawing on the knowledge, ability and enterprise of the residents themselves. The Community Peace Programme's intention was to build a replicable model of conflict resolution. The actual work took place in communities. To identify the most frequently cited problems and obstacles, all recognised community organisations were consulted in public meetings, together with the local police, magistracy and councillors.

In May 1998, 30 residents of Zwelethemba gathered together in a workshop and agreed on the underlying values and principles of the project. All agreed that there was no reliable mechanism for peacefully resolving neighbourhood problems and disputes, and this stood in the way of community development. The project therefore focused on developing principles and procedures for addressing this need in a sustainable and locally accountable form. They were all in agreement that the previously dominant form of leadership was not acceptable – the project should be characterised by a form of leadership that is facilitative and respectful of ethnic, gender and political difference, and that gives at least as much value to local knowledge and ability as to professional or state-based experience.

The decision was made to concentrate on local dispute resolution as a priority. A model was designed to enable people to manage their own lives; through focused action around real issues, approaching general things in a very specific and concrete way. By giving priority to disputes, problems that may be small in themselves, if dealt with, will not escalate until they become disastrous.

Recognising that government cannot adequately service the many people living in poor conditions in urban and semi-rural townships, the Community Peace Programme's goal was to educate the community members to use their knowledge and resources to help themselves in a peaceful, non-patriarchal and sustainable way.

The residents were encouraged to participate in a community-focused and future-orientated way of problem solving. They asked themselves: What is it that I (or my organisation or my community) can do best, that the conventional sources of power and authority cannot do? How can we complement each other by recognising what the other does best?

Peace Committees were implemented, who would facilitate the solving of conflict situations within their communities before the issues escalated into a state of mass unrest. To facilitate a dispute resolution, three or more Peace Committee members would be assigned. In poor communities partnerships were created in which their knowledge, ability and enterprise are given the same respect as those operating in a First Economy.

To begin with, older males dominated the process. However woman were explicitly encouraged to participate and quickly grew in confidence. Gender equality and mutual respect, as well as a broader commitment to human rights became a focal point of the Community Peace Programme. Either as an active member or a community disputant, the participants begin to see themselves as citizens with rights and responsibilities, not as a mere consumers or people without resources or value. The highly patriarchal assumptions and practices that characterise most South African communities, means that this is of particular importance to women and children.

As the Community Peace Programme has developed and expanded into additional communities, an innovative financial incentive system has been implemented which rewards active participation in Peace Committee activities and provides a modest income. This recognition of their valued contribution to community development increases the self-respect of the Peace Committee member.

Over the past decade, the training process for Peace Committee members has been tested and refined. Regular meetings for feedback and reflection were facilitated by the Community Peace Programme. Comprehensive PeaceMaking report forms were developed, Base-line Surveys of the state of public safety were conducted in the communities and Exit Interviews were conducted with community members who have participated in PeaceMaking gatherings. From the data collected, monthly reports were collated.

People bring their disputes to a Peace Committee because they do not want the blaming or punishment that the criminal justice system promotes, but also do not want to take a vigilante route. Regular community exchanges helped build a shared alternative culture, routinised practices of respectful facilitation and problem-solving. The focus is always on the future and reducing the possibility of the problem recurring.

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