Coexistence Community Consultations in South Africa

Angela Khaminwa

Program Officer for Outreach and Communication, The Coexistence Initiative

Sarah Peterson

Program Officer for Dialogue and Mainstreaming Coexistence, The Coexistence Initiative

Interviewed by Julian Portilla, 2003

This rough transcript provides a text alternative to audio. We apologize for occasional errors and unintelligible sections (which are marked with ???).

S: One of the projects that we are working on is called the Coexistence Community Consultations. Basically the idea is to bring two or more groups together that have formerly been in conflict and have on their own initiative, emerged into a state of coexistence, and that state of coexistence is how they define it. I mean that there is not a presence of violence between the two groups. Where there once was violence, it is no longer there. They've emerged into a state of coexistence. What we are asking them is, "how do you define coexistence, what does it mean to you, why is it important, how do you sustain it in your community, and how do you see coexistence actually helping you get to a better place together?"

We have these consultations as a pilot project in South Africa, and in one of the communities, it was called Nuden ???, it was a farming community in South Africa and there was conflict, still is, over land reform between the Farmers Association, primarily of white farmers, and the community members which were primarily black farmers and community workers and also unemployed community members. There was a process of land reform where the land was redistributed to the black communities from the white farming communities. They went through a period of negotiations but prior to the negotiations there was a lot of violence. Somehow though they managed to take the initiative and form a mixed working committee where it was comprised of five of one side and five of the other.

Q: Locals negotiating on their own?

S: Exactly. Five members of the Farmers Association and five members of the local black community center came together and negotiated the process of land reform so that both sides felt that they were being represented in the process. It was a pretty amazing feat given the nature by which the conflict over land reform has created such deep rifts between the two sides and still does today in South Africa. They underwent this negotiation process and built a kind of coexistence out of conflict. We went in, they talked about how they went through that process but they also said that they face so many challenges today, that coexistence is very difficult if not impossible to sustain partly due to new challenges such as crime, economic problems, poverty, starvation, and so forth. Through these consultations they were able to talk about some of the ways they thought their relationship could be improved.

Basically, the ways that they could work toward coexistence together, meaning they need new schools that provide services to the black community, more opportunities to get together for town hall meetings so that both sides can interact with one another socially. The importance of social practice is immensely critical for sustaining coexistence. What does coexistence mean? They really captured it as a spectrum. For some of them, it was simply mutual respect, tolerance, not stepping on each other's toes, show respect for property rights, other kinds of human rights. At the other end it was also about unity and oneness and this whole South African principle of ubuntu ???, which is mindedness, the fundamental interconnectedness of the human spirit and human beings.

Q: These were questions framed by?

S: TCI in cooperation with the African Center for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes, which is ACCORD in South Africa, they partnered with TCI on this project. In one of these communities we used a methodology that we designed together to elicit community feedback on their understanding of coexistence. Now we're going to be releasing a publication in January of 2004 that will capture these portraits that were painted by community members of what coexistence means and how it can be sustained. But the interesting aspect of the consultations is that in describing the way coexistence is present in their community, and ways that coexistence can help them move forward together to a better place, they actually did, because once we left they made phone calls to one another and said, "We have to start working better together."