Spreading the peace message

2013-10-28 00:00

IF you want peace, start with a smile. There’s great truth in this statement, made by Elandskop schoolboy Nqubeko Ngubo, but achieving peace is usually more complicated. Hence the gathering at Pietermaritzburg’s Old Prison last week, where Nqubeko was speaking to more than 75 people from townships and schools around Pietermaritzburg, to learn more about setting up Peace Clubs in their communities.

The setting was a two-day workshop and a genial Dr Jimmy Juma was taking the crowd briskly through his presentation. Juma is Congolese born and his background is in trauma healing and African peace building. He helped found the first Peace Club in Zambia in 2006 as a way of dealing with conflict between foreigners, locals and the police.

The concept has spread to other African countries, including Kenya, Botswana and South Africa. An extensive curriculum has been developed to teach skills in conflict resolution, trauma awareness, negotiation and tolerance. In KZN there are branches in Maritzburg, Durban and KwaMashu, with another being set up in Newcastle. “It’s evolving,” said Juma, who’s been living in South Africa for the last three years.

The gathering had a pan-African flavour, with a smattering of different accents. One man provided a lesson in action when he declared that “99% of South Africans carry knives for protection. Even women carry a knife in their bags.” This caused first hilarity and then irritation from South African participants, but Juma nimbly stepped in, pointing out that “Peace Clubs don’t promote stereotypes. This is what you’ll be doing, you need to find a non-violent way to respond to what people say.”

Sharon Kotze, local Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) Peace Club co-ordinator and conference organiser, has been busy trying to publicize the movement in the Midlands. “We’ve established clubs in three schools in Pietermaritzburg and have gained approval from the Education Department. We’ve also spoken to the Electoral Commission,” she said.

The impact of the clubs on members’ lives goes beyond peace. A girl from Haythorne Secondary School described how in their club they do drama, singing and poetry.

“It’s feeding our souls,” she said. Juma described how the ripple effect of the groups in schools and communities was creating a mentality of sharing. “You have to walk the talk,’’ he said. “That’s the most important part.”

• The workshop was sponsored by the MCC, who rent space at the Old Prison. Mennonites are a Christian group with a strong commitment to pacifism and MCC provide relief, development and peace in their name.

• shelaghm@witness.co.za

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