One of the questions that appears in our weekly reports is, “How is your definition of peacebuilding changing?” It’s hard to answer, because I didn’t have a definition of peacebuilding to start — how would I know if it was changing or not? I began asking people during the course of my research in South Africa and have had various responses from practitioners in the field of peacebuilding and development; I’d be interested to know what my colleagues and other practitioners have found similar or different.
Peacebuilding v. Conflict Resolution
When I explain to people the research that we are conducting this summer, I find myself using the term “conflict resolution” when I get quizzical looks about sport and “peacebuilding”. But conflict resolution and peacebuilding aren’t the same, and though I’m not sure I could define peacebuilding in definitive terms, I have a few suspicions:
1. Peacebuilding is long-term.
2. Peacebuilding is broad-based, holistic.
3. Peacebuilding is sustainable.
4. Peacebuilding is grassroots.
5. Peacebuilding is collaborative.
6. Violence, instability and insecurity are the enemies of peace.
In a context
There are different impediments to peace in different contexts, but I imagine peaceful communities have many things in common. In other words, successful peacebuilding might look similar in different places. In the South African context, as I have mentioned briefly before, there are many factors that lead to violence and instability. However, even these differ from community to community. Drug abuse, socioeconomic disparity, poverty, segregation – these lead to crime, violence and psychologically destructive outcomes. I recently met with a life-long practitioner of peacebuilding at the University of Cape Town Centre for Conflict Resolution, and she confirmed what I already suspected – the real drivers of conflict in much of South Africa are material, socio-economic, and psychological. To paraphrase her thought – when people are hungry, have no access to water, or proper sanitation, when kids grow up on streets where fighting is the norm and gunshots and gang fights break the silence of the night, what hope is there to break the cycle of violence?
What unites the organizations that I have visited in South Africa is a common vision of what a more peaceful society would look like. Kids would finish school because they felt invested and saw more opportunity with an education than without. Men and women would interact on terms of mutual respect and equality. Having knowledge of safe-sex practices would actually have an influence on people’s behavior. The psychological damage of growing up in unsafe conditions would not push kids to do or sell drugs. And economic opportunities after primary school would exist such that kids could escape the poverty and insecurity that defined their childhoods. As my friend at the Centre for Conflict Resolution bluntly said, we are not there yet. But South Africa is a society in transformation, and “its time will come”.
At what level?
Peacebuilding can occur at different levels of society: between individuals, within families, communities or neighborhoods, cities, provinces, nations and even between nations. Practitioners of peacebuilding of course cannot be expected to tackle all of these levels at all times, but certainly we must be aware that peace at one level cannot be sustained without peace at another. Karl Voysey at Soccer4Hope reminded me of this fact when he explained that you must target the micro, meso or macro levels of society. Mediation between individuals and negotiations between heads of state are manifestations along the spectrum of peacebuilding. Should one take primacy over another? Is there a level that is most important as a target of peacebuilding initiatives?
Is integration necessary?
After reading this article in the New York Times over the weekend, I was reminded of how important integration is for the psychological health of a community. This harkens back to Kenneth and Mamie Clark’s doll test, which was recently revisited by a young woman in the US. South Africa remains highly segregated, and not only along racial lines – religion, language and of course economics play important roles in determining the patchwork pattern of South African society. This is largely the byproduct of the apartheid pass laws, but even now communities remain insular. There are very integrated and cosmopolitan communities, but they are few and far between. (District 6 was a famous example of one of these communities in Cape Town, but it was destroyed and its residents removed forcibly in the 1970s as part of apartheid restructuring.)
Yet despite a relatively cosmopolitan history and new-found equality under the law, when I ask South Africans about integration I get mixed reactions. Some say community peace should come first – in the metaphor of the family, communities must get their own affairs in order before they can be expected to deal with outsiders. Some say that race in and of itself is not a bad thing, and that “colorblindness” will not lead to lasting peace. Racism – and the process of defining people by stereotypes and excluding them on basis of color – is what drives wedges between social groups.
Some organizations see the inherent value in integration. One young man I met with has started a rugby outreach program to a few schools in the townships outside of Cape Town. He envisions exchanges between talented white suburban kids and talented black township kids who speak the common language of sport. Another organization, Hoops4Hope in Gugulethu, also sees integration as an invaluable part of their work. In fact it was in their original mandate to bring white, black, coloured, Muslim, Christian, and foreign kids together once a year for a huge tournament.
Peace is multidimensional
In conclusion – poverty by itself will not inevitably lead to violence. Segregation, unemployment, lack of opportunities and poor service delivery –these things are factors, but not determinants. Taken together, however, they make lasting peace difficult to achieve. Breaking the cycle of insecurity is vital to building sustainable, peaceful communities and peaceful nations. I am continually inspired by those working towards this challenging but worthy goal!