You and your church can help bring reconciliation at this crucial moment in South Africa’s history
I phoned Sacli’s Miles Giljam this afternoon to find out more about a Christian peacemaking initiative on South African university campuses caught up in a cycle of protest and violence that has shaken the foundations of tertiary education.
“Can you hear the noise in the background? It’s protesters [on the Cape Peninsula University of Technology — CPUT campus in Beliville] ,” Giljam said at the start of our conversation.
I learnt that since Monday (October 3), church-sponsored professional mediators have been helping to initiate dialogue between opposing groups in an environment where very little trust remains and where the church — as the institution that is most trusted by all parties — has a unique opportunity to serve as peacemakers and help to find a just and peaceful solution.
Also since Monday, teams of “peace witnesses” have been on three Cape Town campuses — CPUT, UWC and UCT — staying close to the protest action. The idea is to hold people accountable and be a restraining influence merely by their presence. They also prayer walk on the spot and they continuously update a group of nearly 100 prayer warriors who are interceding into the situation at the universities. And they write reports — for instance recording whether violence was instigated by students or private security personnel.
As Giljam told me about a situation two nights previously at UCT in which peace witnesses and negotiators played an important role, I was amazed to learn of the kind of drama that plays out on campuses through the night. The observers witnessed private security personnel provoking students and called mediators to the scene at 1am. The mediators intervened effectively, staying on the spot until 4am. The university subsequently removed the security personnel whose function was taken over by police who proved to be less confrontational, he said.
Suddenly our conversation was cut short as Giljam said: “Violence has broken out. I have to go.”
According to an email communication from Rev Moss Nthla chairperson of South African Christian Leaders Initiative (SACLI) and secretary general of the Evangelical Alliance of South Africa, the low levels of trust and major divisions call out to the church, the most trusted institution in the nation, to act by bringing people together to find a just and peaceful solution. South African Christians are invited to join the campus peacemaking initiative — known as the More Than Peace coalition — which has taken off in Cape Town and is being started in other centres.
“Our crucial higher education system is being convulsed by a series of protests related to the #FeesMustFall movement. Police and security guards have been accused of using excessive force. Many students and staff are traumatised. Lives and property are at risk. Learning has ground to a halt. Poor students are still being excluded from education by high fees,” Nthla writes.
He says the More than Peace coalition brings together a number of Christian organisations and churches, under the mandate of SACLI to work on establishing peace and social justice in South Africa.
“We have now built a team of expert mediators to intervene at the universities and help facilitate conversations to ensure that a peaceful and just solution can be achieved. The mediators are all experienced professionals with the time and capacity to mediate complex and ongoing disputes.
“This can help serve church leaders who may not have the time or high level skills to hold a long-term mediation, but who are called to engage as a trusted community and spiritual leaders. The mediators will work as a team under the authority and with cooperation of local and national church and religious leaders,” he says.
He says there are ways to join the coalition:
- Volunteer peace witnesses are needed on campuses all over the country. They will be trained and will not have to actively intervene or place themselves in danger. Volunteers can sign up by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Pray! Sign up to receive email updates by emailing email@example.com
- People can become donors by giving R350 to enable a mediator to work for an hour resolving issues on campus. Mediators have worked for free up until now, but to sustain this work until a resolution is reached, they need to be paid. Payments should be made to The Warehouse Trust, using “Peace” as the reference. The bank details are:Account name: The Warehouse Trust
Account number: 071 883 053
Account type: Current
Bank: Standard Bank, 4 Dreyer Street, Claremont, 7700 South Africa
Branch Code: 025109
Sec 18a certificates which allow you to make the donation tax deductible will be issued.
“The time for the church to serve our nation and our young people as peacemakers is now. South Africa is changing and needs the church to pastor it through this crucial transition,” says Nthla.
Gateway News has heard of church leaders facilitating dialogue in various centres around the country where #FeesMustFall protest action has closed down academic activities — at least for a period.
A mass meeting at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) on Saturday October 1 was chaired by church leaders and representatives of the South African Council of Churches, including the Reverend Ken Carr of the Methodist Church and Pastor Neville Goldman of Ebenezer International.
Before the meeting Christians from around the city gathered at the Church on the Way, near the campus, for a time of prayer and worship focused on the campus situation. Since then groups have been meeting at the church from 7am daily to pray into the campus turmoil.
The church team in Port Elizabeth has continued to engage with the various stakeholders at NMMU during the past week, where it is understood they have been well-received and helped to facilitate dialogue.