South African Experiences with Identity and Community Conflicts

Peer-reviewed Journal Article

Bremner, Davin (2001) South African Experiences with Identity and Community Conflicts , Journal of Peace Research 38(3): 393–405.

This article compares and contrasts two conflict interventions conducted during the difficult and dangerous period of political transition in South Africa in the early 1990s. Politicized ethnic violence was dividing black African communities, threatening the ongoing national negotiation process and the transition to democracy. In the Thokoza township east of Johannesburg, the structures and methods of the South African Peace Accord were unsuccessfully employed in an effort to prevent or mitigate ongoing violence. At the same time, in the Meadowlands section of Soweto, west of Johannesburg, a combination of processes grounded in alternative assumptions and methods allowed the community to take first responsibility for its own conflict handling and peacekeeping functions, ultimately transforming the local situation into a stable and nonviolent one. A case of using 'action research' as an alternative strategy for engaging conflicted parties in dialogue and problem-solving, when they profess unwillingness to be involved in more explicit peace processes, is described and explored. The article suggests, among other things, that in a situation of community conflict a labor mediation framework which regards the parties to the conflict as necessarily adversarial, and intervener behavior that reinforces the perception of adversariality, is not ideal for creating safe spaces for dialogue, or for allowing a sense of shared community identity to prevail over ethnic, political, or other divisive influences.