Guest Column

The ordinary face of reconciliation

2018-12-13 11:23

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Every day, across the length and breadth of South Africa, ordinary citizens are actively engaging in activities that dismantle the negative effects of a divided past. They are all the face of reconciliation, writes Stanley Henkeman.

As we prepare to celebrate Reconciliation Day on 16 December it might be appropriate to counter the levels of skepticism and cynicism that accompany the symbolic celebrations that are often devoid of depth and believability.  

I want to suggest that reconciliation is advanced and practiced by ordinary South Africans on a daily basis.

In a publication entitled, "Pathways for Connections: an emerging model for long-term reconciliation in post-conflict South Africa," the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation (IJR) identifies five key shifts that emerged from their work in and with geographic and interest-based communities. These shifts are:

• Historically dominant, self-sufficient groups get involved and stay engaged in social change;

• Historically marginalised groups increase their sense of agency;

• Exclusive narratives of history and the present day are changed to inclusive narratives;

• Community members emerge as leaders and act independently to continue the social-cohesion agenda; and

• Practitioners increase awareness of their own positionality and generate a 'spillover' effect in their operating environment.

The remarkable fact is that the achievement of these shifts often happens without strong systemic support and interventions.

READ: The price of failing to invest in civic education

Today, I want to showcase three South Africans who represent millions in our society who quietly get on with making this country a better place.

Mzukisi Mooi is a social entrepreneur, development practitioner and mediator and is linked to the Centre for Rural Legal Studies in Stellenbosch where he and his colleagues work tirelessly in helping marginalised rural communities to understand and access their socio-economic rights. He has been instrumental in averting many potentially violent protests by promoting dialogue as a means to shift blockages in the pursuit of social cohesion and transformation.  

Mzukisi has been instrumental in bringing people from different and differing backgrounds together as was evident in a recent de-escalation of a potentially violent confrontation in the Western Cape town of Grabouw.

In the rural town of Warrenton in the Northern Cape, Shadrach Theys, affectionately known as Oom Theys, quietly contributes to the restoration of the dignity of a forgotten community. Oom Theys is a transformation agent of note whose life and example underscores the importance that anyone and everyone can lead change.

He has been instrumental in inspiring young people to create opportunities for themselves and change their circumstances for the better. He does this through his vision and commitment to the building of a cohesive community, as an ambassador for justice and reconciliation and by walking his talk through improving his personal circumstances.  

In 2018 an organisation called Partners for Possibility (PfP) was recognised by the World Innovation Summit for Education (WISE) for innovative solutions to education. This award came on the back of more than 20 other national and international awards.  Partners for Possibility (PfP) is described as "a creative solution to South Africa' education crisis – it is a co-action, co-learning partnership between school principals and business leaders, enabling social cohesion through partnerships, and empowering principals to become change leaders in their schools and communities".  

Through its interventions PfP reached more than 1 600 principals and business leaders and improved education for more than 600 000 learners. PfP was the brainchild of Dr Louise van Rhyn who wanted to contribute to better educational outcomes, particularly for schools in marginalised communities. She started out by partnering with Ridwaan Samsodien, principal of Kannemeyer Primary School in Grassy Park, Cape Town and thus began an amazing story of transformation that has so far benefitted more than 800 schools across South Africa.

These fine South Africans, like many others, are quietly and without official titles and mandates contributing to a better and more cohesive society where the dignity of people is restored and hope is rekindled for a better future. They display, through their work, the five shifts identified by IJR practitioners. 

Every day, across the length and breadth of South Africa, ordinary citizens are actively engaging in activities that dismantle the negative effects of a divided past. They are all the face of reconciliation.

Reconciliation Day is intended to bring South Africans together with a view of healing the damage done by apartheid. Every year it is commemorated as an official event and every year the event serves as nothing more than a political rally for the ruling party, thus defeating the very objective of the day.  

In 2018, let's all celebrate the ordinary South Africans who contribute to the building of an inclusive South Africa because they represent the face of reconciliation.

- Stanley Henkeman is the executive director of the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation (IJR) in Cape Town.

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