A Note from the Editors: Each month the GCPE newsletter features a lead article highlighting perspectives on peace education research, practice, and policy from peace educators from around the world to provde readers with multiple perspectives on our wide and rapidly developing field. These perspectives do not necessarily reflect those of the GCPE. We encourage you, the readers, to critically engage with these perspectives as you reflect upon your own work and practice. We also invite you to contact us with your comments and for the possibility of contributing articles for future issues.
Remembering Nelson Mandela on the first anniversary of his death: wisdom for peace
Vaughn John, University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa
I write this piece as we approach the first anniversary of the death of Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s first democratic president. Madiba, as he was affectionately known, died on 5 December 2013, at the age of 95. He will be remembered for many contributions by people across the globe. Readers of this newsletter will remember Mandela as apartheid South Africa’s prisoner of 27 years and later a Nobel Peace prize winner. I want to use this opportunity to reflect on and remember some of Mandela’s contributions to peace building. What legacy has Madiba left for our community of peace educators? What wisdom can we draw on from the life and works of Nelson Mandela as we face the challenges of violence and inequality at this time? These are the questions I wish to address in this article.
At the International Peace Research Association’s (IPRA) 25th annual conference in August this year, I delivered a paper entitled: “On unity, peace and values: the wisdom of Nelson Mandela,” which I draw on in this article. In my presentation, I included these pictures taken at the Mandela capture site, the place Mandela was arrested prior to his long imprisonment. This site is just some 23 kilometers from my home.
The site has a sculpture of Mandela made up from 50 separate pieces of metal as shown in the picture on the right. It is an amazing sculpture because the viewer is actively involved in the “making of Mandela”. This requires the viewer to adopt the ideal position in order to allow a process of connections to happen, to let separate, jagged pieces to blend into a whole and to let the beautiful image of Mandela emerge. A further symbolism in this viewing of Mandela is that his image is made up by the background or context surrounding these metal pieces. So one’s perspective of Mandela at this site is dependent on connections allowed from adopting a position and on seeing in context. I believe these three factors, namely, connecting, perspective and context, also apply to how we may view and remember Nelson Mandela as a source of peace wisdom.
I have chosen five lessons from the life and works of Mandela which form part of his wisdom for peace, all dealing with a type of connecting, and all illustrated by different quotes from Mandela’s many public addresses and his biography, Long Walk to Freedom. But before we look at these, it is first necessary to deal with the multiple perspectives of Mandela. His life journey, depending on your standpoint, could be described as “From terrorist to Nobel Peace laureate”. Mandela never shied away from this and wrote:
"I was called a terrorist yesterday, but when I came out of jail, many people embraced me, including my enemies, and that is what I normally tell other people who say those who are struggling for liberation in their country are terrorists. I tell them that I was also a terrorist yesterday, but, today, I am admired by the very people who said I was one."
1. Connecting with your enemy
The first lesson emerging from the above quotation relates to how Mandela chose to deal with his enemy, who had imprisoned him for 27 years. This is one of his most profound contributions to peace building. His advice here is:
“If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he [she] becomes your partner.” ‘
2. Connecting with the past
Closely tied to the first lesson, is Mandela’s advice on dealing with the past. On leaving office as president on 15 June 1999, he said:
“South Africans must recall the terrible past so that we can deal with it, forgiving where forgiveness is necessary but never forgetting.”
This is a form of critical remembrance, a way of looking back so that one can move forward; a vital part of peacebuilding.
3. Connecting inner and outer peace
A central lesson exemplified in the actions of Mandela is the importance of achieving a balance between personal peace and public peace. Mandela was better known for the latter, but his abilities to be a peace-maker and peace-builder in South Africa and the world required that he develop inner peace. In this regard historian Sarah Nuttall (2014) notes:
"… while Mandela has long been seen as a man of action … there is much in his life and thinking that invites conversation in relation to the projects of inner liberation and human emancipation undertaken by figures like Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Ang San Suu Kyi …"
This ability is perhaps best expressed by Mandela himself when he said:
"As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn't leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I'd still be in prison."
And this is perhaps a key inspiration for peace educators as we deal with bitter knowledge:
“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”
4. Connected freedoms and humanity
An important lesson and a personal stance which I respect Mandela for, relates to the connections he forged between his freedom and his peoples’ freedom and the freedom of everyone. He made many statements on this:
"A man who takes away another man’s freedom is a prisoner of hatred, he is locked behind the bars of prejudice and narrow-mindedness. I am not truly free if I am taking away someone else’s freedom, just as surely as I am not free when my freedom is taken from me. The oppressed and the oppressor alike are robbed of their humanity… For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.
We know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians; without the resolution of conflicts in East Timor, the Sudan and other parts of the world."
These views on freedom and humanity reflect Mandela’s brand of African humanism and firm belief in the interconnectedness and interdependence of all people as expressed in African languages as a form of ‘humanness’ through concepts such as Ubuntu (Zulu) and Botho (Sotho). Despite critique that these concepts may be outdated and relate to obsolete communitarian societies, I believe they are relevant today and of high peace value.
5. Connecting different forms of violence … remembering structural violence
So much of our efforts as peace workers focus on physical and direct violence. Mandela reminds us to not forget our culpability and responsibility related to poverty as another form of violence:
"Overcoming poverty is not a task of charity, it is an act of justice. Like Slavery and Apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings. Sometimes it falls on a generation to be great. YOU can be that great generation. Let your greatness blossom."
In concluding, I’d like to draw on some writing close to home which is apposite to my reflections here. It is an example of how young South Africans are drawing on the wisdom of Madiba. My daughter Talia recently delivered a speech at her final high school awards day. In reminding her fellow classmates about the journey completed and the new journeys ahead she cited a passage from Mandela’s biography. She said:
"We are fortunate in that, as the Born Free generation, we are blessed with the wisdom of an incredible leader, a person whose life also epitomized our 2014 motto: Learn. Love. Lead. So let these words from Tata Madiba (may his soul rest in peace) guide you on your journey:
'I have walked that long road to freedom. I have tried not to falter; I have made missteps along the way. But I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb. I have taken a moment here to rest, to steal a view of the glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back on the distance I have come. But I can rest only for a moment, for with freedom comes responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not yet ended.'"
As we remember Mandela a year after his passing, I believe these words are most apt for our community of peace educators too … we have made some progress but a long walk still beckons. Mandela encourages us on this walk when he said:
“The world remains beset by so much human suffering, poverty and deprivation. It is in your hands to make of our world a better one for all.”
Vaughn John (PhD) teaches Peace Education and Conflict Resolution at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. He is the co-convener of the Peace Education Commission of the International Peace Research Association (IPRA). He can be reached at: email@example.com
Resources for Teaching About Ferguson and Beyond: Addressing Structural Racism
Structural racism and racial justice have been thrust into the spotlight in the United States following consciousness raising and media attention to incidents of police violence and the non-indictment of the officers who killed Michael Brown and Eric Garner. Following are a few resources recommended by the Global Campaign for Peace Education to gain perspective on the issue. Also of interest is a shared google document prepared by members of the Peace & Justice Studies Association with many potential educational resources.
Do’s and Don’ts for Teaching About Ferguson (USA)
(TheRoot.com) It’s no exaggeration to refer to the shooting death of unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown at the hands of a Ferguson, Mo., police officer, the treatment of protesters and civilians by a militarized police force in in its aftermath, and the context of racial inequality in which they all happened as an American tragedy. But there’s little time to mourn such a thing when you have to head back to a classroom and teach. In the wake of the demonstrations—and in the midst of the still-unresolved quest for justice for Brown’s family—students across the country are heading back to school, and they’re undoubtedly expecting answers. So what do we tell them about the at-once disturbing and deeply revealing set of events of August 2014 that are now simply referred to as “Ferguson”? Educators, activists and others have weighed in this week in a flurry of interviews, blog posts and articles. From their insights and from lessons from the past, here’s a set of dos and don’ts for teachers (as well as for parents who consider themselves their children’s most important guides to understanding the adult-sized issues in the world around them).
Talking With Students About Ferguson and Racism (USA)
(Teaching Tolerance) I’ve been talking about race and racism with my students. We’ve been talking about Ferguson, critiquing the ways various media have covered the case, identifying pernicious stereotypes about young people of color and seeking out ways to create media of our own...It’s clear to me that my students have learned about race and racism in school. The primary lessons they have learned are that racism is over (with the exception of a few racist individuals) and that it’s impolite to call attention to race, especially at school. How did my students learn these lessons? They learned from textbooks that treat racial justice as an inevitable result, a goal attained. They learned from media that skirt discussions of race and reinforce the idea that talking about racism only makes it worse. They learned from white teachers who, intentionally or not, communicated their own preference to avoid the issue.
Teaching About Ferguson – Teaching for Change
As the new school year begins, first and foremost on our minds and in our hearts will be the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. Teachers may be faced with students’ anger, frustration, sadness, confusion, and questions. Some students will wonder how this could happen in the United States. For others, unfortunately, police brutality and intimidation are all too familiar. Here are a few ideas and resources for the classroom to help students think critically about the events in Ferguson and ways they can be proactive in their own communities.
The Making of Ferguson: Long before the shooting of Michael Brown, official racial-isolation policies primed Ferguson for this summer's events
(The American Prospect – Richard Rothstein) In what follows, I’ll describe how St. Louis became so segregated—a pattern where racial boundaries continually change but communities’ racial homogeneity persists. Neighborhoods that appear to be integrated are almost always those in transition, either from white to mostly black (like Ferguson), or from black to increasingly white (like St. Louis’s gentrifying neighborhoods). Such population shifts in St. Louis and in other metropolitan areas maintain segregation rules established a century ago. I tell this story with some hesitation. I don’t mean to imply that there is anything special about racial history in Ferguson, St. Louis, or the St. Louis metropolitan area. Every policy and practice segregating St. Louis was duplicated in almost every metropolis nationwide. Yet this story of racial isolation and disadvantage, enforced by federal, state, and local policies, many of which are no longer practiced, is central to an appreciation of what occurred in Ferguson this past summer, many decades later. Policies that are no longer in effect and seemingly have been reformed still cast a long shadow.
What Next? Indicting the System and Building the Beloved Community (USA)
(Tony Jenkins, CounterPunch.org) Most in the peace and justice community took it as a foregone conclusion that Darren Wilson wouldn’t be indicted by the system of injustice that he was a part of. We had hoped somehow for a miracle, that the system and the culture that reinforces it would indict itself. What we need instead are civilian indictments of the system – many of them. Communities all across the country need to hold a candle of justice up to our legal system and call it what it is: polarizing, fear-based, classist and racist. Indictments from civil society – when presented and argued with civility and reason could have real moral authority. And while the outcomes of these indictments and the civilian tribunals that could follow may not be enforceable under current law, they provide grounding for the establishment of just and moral local communities.