Peacebuilding in South Africa: Peace – our one destiny
Five years ago, Martin Mande fled the aftermath of the biggest war in Africa’s recent history. Now he is laying down the roots for peace among the young people of his adopted home of South Africa.
Martin Mande in an exercise to teach children about peace and how to deal with conflicts.
Back home in the war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo, Mr Mande worked as a youth activist and helped child soldiers re-integrate into society. He was tortured and harassed after defending child soldiers and ended up in prison.
As a refugee in Pretoria, he decided to use his background in pedagogy and sociology to tackle the issue of conflict among young people. He joined the Xaveri youth movement and began to use the Caritas Peacebuilding Manual to teach children how to live and grow together.
“In South Africa many children are fatherless or motherless,” says Mr Mande. “some children don’t want to be associated with other children and are full of anger and frustration. Others live in households full of conflict.”
“Violence has become a major part of our lives and appears to be a frequently used method of problem solving,” he says.
Some 180 young people from 6 to over 18 years old are the focus of the peacebuilding programme. They are from South Africa, but they are also from countries such as Zimbabwe, Congo, Sudan, Rwanda, Burundi and Somalia.
A wave of xenophobic attacks in South Africa last year highlighted the tensions between locals and immigrants. Part of Mr Mande’s work addresses budding ethnic conflict among young people.
“We deal with things such as the conflict between local and foreign children. We help the children work together, for example we organised a charity fundraiser where the children banded together to collect old clothes and distribute them to people in need.” says Mr Mande.
He says they use the part of the manual related to defining conflict and its relation to culture and children to explore conflict issues. Then they use exercises to help the children identity their group, map how conflict arises and define power.
Mr Mande says the manual helps bridge cultural, ethnic, racial and language differences and gives the children the opportunity to question their thinking and actions regarding these issues and discuss things in a constructive environment.
The peacebuilding manual exercises give the children the basis to make friends and deal with conflict. Puppets and drama are sometimes used to make the issue of peace more accessible to younger minds before they get caught up in simmering tensions.
“Aggressive and self-destructive attitudes can be found among the young people we deal with. This can lead to suicide or high-risk behavior such as substance abuse or unprotected sex,” says Mr Mande.
Activities such as trips to the park and camping trips make sure the children receive attention from adults which might be lacking at home while also providing an outlet for pent-up emotions.
Mr Mande says that ultimately the peacebuilding programme aims to show how a human being can engage in dialogue with another human being.
“Peace is the goal. It is the future of all our pasts. It is the one destiny to which humankind must gravitate in order to find its true identity,” says Mr Mande.