Places of peace

March 27th, 2019

Finding peace

If you were to go back and read a newspaper from a generation ago, you would be more than likely to encounter multiple stories about places around the world filled with unrest and turmoil. In the years since, many of these places, such as South Africa, Northern Ireland and Rwanda, have found some measure of peace. Similarly, in the decades before, Europe and Southeast Asia transitioned from a time riddled by war and conflict into relative peace following World War II. The struggle of making peace, however, still continues in many of these places long after the headlines have ceased. Working for peace is hard.

Examining all of these societies and how they have a measure of peace would require a massive doctoral dissertation. With that in mind, we will focus on one in particular, South Africa, which continues to wrestle with the challenges of peace after officially ending its practice of apartheid in 1993–1994.

For historical perspective, apartheid was a policy developed by the South African government that was based on racial discrimination and separation. Simply put, the minority of people with a European lineage held the levers of power, controlled the economy and enjoyed a high level of privilege, while those in the majority, who were native Africans, did not. After almost 50 years, apartheid came to an end as a result of internal struggle and external pressure from the world community. Eventually, South Africa was able to set a new course with the repeal of apartheid legislation in 1991 and Nelson Mandela’s election as president in 1994. To many, it was miraculous that Mandela, a political prisoner for 27 years, would rise to be the president of the nation that had newly committed to a constitution without institutionalized racism.

The challenges remain

Although the end of apartheid was indeed a tremendous accomplishment, there is still much work to be done in South Africa. The once-outlawed African National Congress (ANC) has held the presidency since Mandela’s election in 1994, representing a triumph of majority rule; yet the pace of change has been slow. White South Africans still control much of the economy and own a vast majority of the land in the country. According to a November 2018 BBC video, 72 percent of the land is owned by only nine percent of the population. This and other land-rights issues have become a flash point in South Africa’s current political climate leading up to an election scheduled for May 2019.

In a recent New York Times article, the situation is summarized this way: “With only a few months to go before elections, this elemental struggle — over who owns South Africa — is playing out on a national level. Many black South Africans feel betrayed by the failure of the A.N.C., riddled with corruption, to provide access to land for the black majority.”

One looming question centers on whether land can be seized without compensation in order to speed the process of land redistribution or whether the current system of willing seller/willing buyer should remain in force. The same BBC video adds, “The government faces a perilous balancing act, because if they take too much land, it runs the risk of scaring away international investors needed to revive the economy. Too little, and you betray the promise of freedom.”

The New York Times article describes how squatters built 40 shacks in a matter of hours on the edge of a landowner’s vineyard. The property is owned by Stefan Smit, who notes, “I never spoke to the people myself. You don’t do that. . . . It’s not advisable.” While the constitutional changes of the 1990s were able to prevent a civil war, the divide still remains between white South Africans and black South Africans.

A heart of peace

According to the book The Anatomy of Peace: Resolving the Heart of Conflict, by the Arbinger Institute, the challenges of making peace are met by having “a heart of peace.” The authors argue that a heart of peace means you see the other group or person as a unique and valuable human being. On the other hand, if you objectify the other, devalue them as human beings, and see them only as obstacles or stereotypes, you have “a heart of war.”

Nelson Mandela embodied the heart of peace in his relationships with others. He treated even his enemies with courtesy, searched for the best in them, and tried to understand them. In addition, he considered both sides of all questions in search of the best solution. Mandela was always willing to have conversations with others, even though they would often be difficult. When Smit noted that he never spoke with the people squatting on his land, it shows that an important tool in the quest for peace has been shut off.

Making peace, like building anything, needs a number of tools. The Community Toolbox, an online resource from the University of Kansas, describes conflict resolution as “a way for two or more parties to find a peaceful solution to a disagreement among them. The disagreement may be personal, financial, political, or emotional.” It goes on to list seven steps for resolving conflict:

  1. Understand the conflict. 
  2. Communicate with the opposition. 
  3. Brainstorm possible resolutions. 
  4. Choose the best resolution. 
  5. Use a third-party mediator. 
  6. Explore alternatives. 
  7. Cope with stressful situations and pressure tactics. 

These are tools that may be used in any conflict, including personal ones that we deal with every day. We begin with having a heart of peace. We must be willing to understand, willing to talk and listen, and willing to see new possibilities.

Be sure to check out FaithLink, a weekly downloadable discussion guide for classes and small groups.

comments powered by Disqus