Friday, November 28, 2008



Dealing with conflict and Violence in and through the Church

Marianhill/Durban, South Africa, 26-27 November 2008

(The report that follows is my personal view of what went on. The official report will be made by the conveners of the consultations)

The place was ideal for such a consultation. Marianhill is a Catholic Monastery established in 1882 by Abbot Francis Pfanner. Fr Francis was born in the Austrian village of Langen, Voralberg, 1825. In 1880 he together with 30 companions reached Dunbrody in the Cape Colony after responding to the call by Bishop Ricards of South Africa to the Trappists to establish a monastery in South Africa. A day after Christmas in 1882, having bought a piece of land near Durban, Abbot Francis’ heavily loaded ox wagon got stuck in the mud of the place where Marianhill was eventually built. The consultation was at the retreat centre section of the monastery, which was indeed the right place for the occasion because of its inviting quietness and serenity. It was my first time to sleep in a monastery.

There could not have been a better place than KwaZulu Natal province to discuss peace because this is the place where several thousands (over 20000) people across the political divide died before, during and after the 1994 land mark democratic elections in South Africa. Up to now we are informed the province has scars and is potentially volatile and that violence can happen anytime because of the robust electioneering being promised by both the old and new parties in the making. The old Inkatha Freedom Party IFP and African National Congress ANC rivalry plus the Congress of the People COPE’s new dimension ushering in a new opposition makes the situation rather uncertain.

KwaZulu Natal Council of Churches KZNCC plays a crucial role in making and preserving peace in the province. This is the very reason why it called for the consultation at this critical moment. KZNCC has its own networks and also collaborates with other institutions, civil and other Faith based to grapple with the issue of bringing lasting peace to the province.

The main speaker Professor T. Maluleke, the chair of South Africa Council of Churches SACC declared that “peace is cool….there is nothing sexy about violence.” The inward peace and the outside bliss so much advocated for is mostly seen when someone is dead. We are told that violence and war are inevitable. What we should realize is that violence begets violence. There is violence before the incident of violence and violence itself and after. He went on noting that “peace as absence of violence and war is wrong. Peace is the presence of justice and fairness and truth” Maluleke challenged us to celebrate rituals of peace and not to just follow the world which seems to reward and celebrate violence and war. In another presentation the question was posed, “Is it victory when we end up with people hurting and injured?”

Faith based organizations were best positioned to advocated for peace said Dr R Sathiparsad of the UKZN, because they were value based. They are there to build and sustain peace. They are against violation of human and people’s rights. She even said that the original Jihad in Islam was nonviolent. Values have to be made visible through action. Then we will be walking the talk.

The topic on “The size, nature and impact of conflict and violence in SA today,” was given by Dr Peter Gastrow of the Institute of Security Studies in Cape Town. Peter singled out terms like violence and crime, and violent conflict. There was nothing wrong with conflict. Conflict is neutral. It can be channeled/managed even for the better. His presentation was marked by both the negatives and positives in the trends of crime rate in South Africa. There were certain types of crimes that were decreasing while others were increasing. SA had always to be on the watch to manage crime rate.

Peter categorised violent conflicts into three types: Xenophobic, Community Protests and the new political environment.

Xenophobia: This incident exposed who South Africans where. The notion of a rainbow nation, a nation at peace with itself, loving and caring all that came to an abrupt end when the whole world was bombarded with nasty scenes of violence that was metted on both black foreigners and some SA minorities who lived mostly in informal settlements. For once SA became like other African states. This was it was alleged providential because SA had to join the whole region as an equal brother with concerns that were faced in other parts of the SADC and the continent.

Protest in communities: These were necessary in a changing society. The danger, though, was that some of these turn into violence and examples were given.

New political environment: There was a likely danger of legitimizing violence. The good emerging thing though was the rebuffing, the withdrawal of explosive statements. Politicians failed to control this violence because they did not want to be seen to be week.

Accompanying the consultation was a workbook, which as individuals we were working on by responding to questions posed to help us consolidate what we were receiving from the presenters. Structured questions were asked at each and every turn. These questions ranged from our expectations to analysing each presentation. Our personal involvement in making peace was also challenged in the process. We were always encouraged to look for opportunites to apply what we were learning to our own situations in our different countries and regions.

Day Two began with Bible Study by the CEO of KZNCC Ms Pumzela Zondi-Mazibela. She read from 2 Samuel 11 vs 1-27. We were confronted with violence. We are only told that David envied Bathsheba, Uriah’s wife who he later slept with. David violated both Bathsheba and Uriah’s rights. Uriah is sent to the front of the battle in order to get rid of him. David goes ahead to take Bathsheba for his wife after Uriah had been done away with. The Scripture says “But the thing that David had done displeased the Lord” vs 27. David got off the hook, though because we are told later that he was blessed in his leadership. Does God reward evil doers?

At the end we focused on five critical points to carry on forward:
1. Faith based organizations spearheading and working to prevent xenophobia in SA.
2. Faith based organizations working towards peaceful elections
3. Establishing a Christian nonviolence programmes
4. Developing materials (print, video, etc) on conflict and violence for KZN churches by producing a) Skills and b) telling the success stories
5. Educating young men in the ways of peace. (including with respect to women)

The highlights of the consultation for me was the sharing of success stories by some groups (9 of them) present on the work they were doing in order to bring and maintain peace in the region. Two of these reports touched us all. The first was the Amanzimtoti/Kwa Makuta Initiative. This was an initiative where two congregations, one for blacks and another for whites which are in two diverse communities near each other but divided on the former apartheid racial lines managed to come together. They belong to the same denomination but had nothing to do with each other because of the former policies. The white minister the Rev Anne' Verhoef told us that the first trip to the black community to court friendship was rewarded by his car being stoned. He did not give up working with his black counterpart. The most telling event they had together was that of going out for a weekend together with 15 members from each racial group. The time was short because people were eager to empty themselves and to cry on each others’ shoulders across the racial divide.

The second story was the Newcastle Land Initiative. Two leaders one of the Landless people and of the other of white farmers made very touching presentations respectively. For a long time they had been at each other’s throat. Both physical and verbal abuse was the order of the day and they now regreted ever doing that. Now they have buried the hatchet and some former black landless people have been parceled out land by white farmers and are living in harmony. Both claim they have a lot to learn from each other and they wished if this could be multiplied. They were afraid, though that if this was not taken seriously and multiplied through out the nation some opportunists would soon take advantage and incite people to grab land and thereby disturbing the good work of sharing land going on in the province of KwaZulu Natal.

Delegates from Mozambique and Zimbabwe were also given opportunity to share their own stories. Mozambique representatives presented a very encouraging report of how the Church has managed to raise its head above waters both before the peace accord of 1992 signed in Rome after a sixteen civil strive in that country. The Catholic Church having been the dominant and alligned to the former colonial government had had some advantage from the new government point of view. At independence the communist type of government made the church suffer for a while. The Protestant Church found it a bit difficult to find space at the beginning. But because it was responsible for much of the education for the blacks it gradually gained support. There were moments when both Catholics and Protestants worked together. In other instances the Protestant was left out particularly at the signing of the peace accord though they had done a lot towards the event. After the land mark 1994 elections in which FLERIMO and RENAMO took part in which the RENAMO lost and then refused to accept defeat the Protestant Churches under the Council of Churches CCM have been in the forefront of advocating, maintaining and sustaining peace. The Church has not been infiltrated and they are working together to bring peace to that country. As a result Mozambique, though poor is developing ahead of a number of countries which have strife among themselves.

Zimbabwean delegation made a very revealing report on the current situation in the country whereby the church has been divided for a very long time. Before independence the church both Catholic and Protestant agreed on the evil nature of the colonial regime. There were some who supported the status quo. After independence it’s only Catholics who raised voice against the Matabeleland massacres during the Gukurahundi era. About 20 thousand people perished when the present government brutalized the region in early 1980s. In its Breaking the Silence Report which Catholics produced together with Lawyers for Human rights stunned the whole world. Meanwhile the Protestant Church represented by the Zimbabwe Council of Churches embarked on development programmes and ignored basic social concerns and justice issues. The Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe EFZ initially ignored social matters. From time to time when the church tried to raise its voice it was quickly reminded that its business was to preach the gospel and to give communion and not to discuss political issues. That was the paten until 2005 in May when the government introduced Operation remove dirty named Murambatsvina. This was the breaking point. Churches in Manicaland voiced their displeasure and also Churches in Bulawayo. Churches in Bulawayo went further to invite others across the country to come to an indaba where the issue was discussed thoroughly. This is where some of us from Harare got in the fray. I was among those invited to this meeting in Matopos near Rhodes’ grave. After three days of deliberations we came up with Christian Alliance CA and I was elected its convener. We are like minded Christian leaders (from differnt denominations) who are concerned about solving our crisis in a peaceful, nonviolent and prophetic manner. We were worried that the church had been quite for a very long time and we were providing an alternative voice. For that reason we have been vilified, attacked, demonized, arrested and been put under surveilance. I have been arrested five times without any charge laid against me. We have managed to bring all Democratic forces together. We have made overtures to the ruling party but in most instances we have been rebuffed. We are still confident that one day our hope for a free Zimbabwe through nonviolent method will come through. Recently together with Dr Goodwell Shana, the Head of all Christian Denominations HOD in Zimbabwe I was called to do some internal mediation during the current impasse. We managed to meet with representatives of all the three major parties in the talks including ZANU PF. There is more willingness to work together in the church than before. We are getting there but we still have to meet as a Church and confess our sin of ommission.

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