Special Report by Miles Giljam, SA Christian Leadership Initiative (Sacli)
This week on campus began in one of the best ways possible – united prayer. Christian pastors all over the nation gathered at their local campus on Monday morning to pray and engage with the university communities. This was an inspiring moment for both the pastors and many of the students, staff and security that they were able to engage.
Prayer was crucial because with another week of conflict on campuses around feesmustfall predicted many people began to feel despair, frustration, exhaustion and increasing anger at their situation. Staff, students, parents and other stakeholders are increasingly tired, distrustful, stressed and in many cases traumatized by the conflict. The complexity of the issues is overwhelming. The stakes are high and affect so many people in so many different ways.
The SACLI Peace Justice Witness teams were kept seriously busy this week observing and engaging the situation on a number of campuses. It seemed that every day a new set of crises would emerge. In Cape Town events seemed to come to a climax on Thursday with crucial interventions needed on three of the four campuses at the same time. Already exhausted members of the Witness teams moved from campus to campus to be a peaceful praying presence where the need was greatest – the final team leaving UWC at close to 2am after the mediation team had secured commitments from Police and students to refrain from further conflict that night to allow residence dwellers to sleep free from fear.
Choices have consequences
Its very easy when not on the campus to make generalisations and think of the situation as a battle between “Students” and “the Police”. However there is no typical student, typical staff member, typical police officer or typical security guard. Individuals make choices that have consequences both good and bad – and when bad choices are made many people are innocently caught up in these actions and the reactions from the other side.
Being able to engage with and minister to individuals amidst the conflict have been some of the most significant moments of this week. Whether helping protesting workers and admin find one another at WITS, or praying for healing with frightened students caught in residence whilst police raided rooms looking for those responsible for earlier violence; or praying for a Private Security Guard ahead of a what would be a very difficult day with colleagues injured and hospitalized.
These small moments of hope were bolstered by larger breakthroughs. In particular CPUT management and students managed to move beyond a major deadlock to have a General Assembly at the Cape Town campus where over 500 members of the university met to talk about the issues and pass common resolutions. The More than Peace mediation team facilitated the often tense and emotional dialogue for over 6 hours. At the end students, staff and parents were able to go home having peacefully agreed on a number of issues with commitments to engage further in order to agree on what is still outstanding. Please pray with us that these steps in the right direction will hold and be the foundation for resolving the issues on campus and that other universities will also be able to have breakthroughs in mediation.
Body of Christ in action
There are many roles that Christians can play in our present conflicts on campus. Some Christians have chosen to focus on justice by being activists and supporting FeesMustFall or the rights of University staff members; others have chosen to focus on healing by being pastors and tending to the hurt and trauma on both sides of the conflict; others have chosen to be mediators, creating neutral space where the parties are able to come together to talk; those in the Peace and Justice Witness teams have chosen to be neutral observers ensuring that truth is discerned; some are fighting the spiritual battle supporting the team on the ground in prayer; and others have chosen to serve through acts of mercy, providing food and medical care to those hurt by the conflict. Each of these roles are crucial and God calls Christians into each of them to act with peace and integrity. It is rare that one person can play more than one role successfully, but when Christians are active in each role then the relationships, values and trust they have for each other can mean that we see the true church rising up as one body with each of the actors in the situation being effective and working together well. It’s then that I believe we will start to see Jesus and his glory manifest in our society.
I encourage everyone to ask God what role they could play at this time. When the church rises up we will see Hope break into a desperate situation. When the church rises up that is when we will start to see true peace on our campuses.
You can join the More than Peace team in five ways.
1) We need volunteers to act as “Peace Justice Witnesses” to be observers on the campuses all over the country. This is urgent as the stand-off between students and security escalates each day. Each “Peace Justice Witness” will be given training and will not have to actively intervene or place themselves in danger. Our ministry will be one of presence, prayer and witness. This has historically been proven to be highly effective in situations of potential conflict. You can sign up for the Peace Witness team by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. You will be sent options for training in your area. We would especially welcome clergy to join these teams.
2) Pray! Sign up to receive WhatsApp and email updates emailing email@example.com.
3) Volunteer as a trainee mediator – our professional mediators need help to facilitate faculty dialogues and community discussions as part of the support for the broader mediation efforts on campus. We are especially keen for younger leaders and clergy to begin to develop these skills within this challenging context.
4) Trauma counselling – professionals who are skilled in counselling are able to volunteer to join teams who are engaging students and staff who have been traumatized by the events on their campuses.
5) For a donation of R350 you can help enable a mediator to work for an hour resolving issues on campus. Mediators have worked at risk up until now, but to sustain this work until a resolution is reached, we need to be able to help them sustain their families. The Warehouse bank details are included below. Use “Peace” as the reference.
The Warehouse 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: Claremont Branch
Sec 18a certificates which allow you to make the donation tax deductible will be issued.