Program Officer for Outreach and Communication, The Coexistence Initiative
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 ???).
Q: Working together, to use your phrase, is something that people who are just out of a conflict might not be willing to do very easily; hatred, mistrust, fear, like you said. How do you get there? I know there's no magic book. Don't get me wrong, I'm not looking for the answer, but you know, generally speaking.
A: I think there is a lot of reconstruction required. We talk about post conflict reconstruction and we need to talk about that as much as social reconstruction. How do you rebuild trust in communities, how do you reconcile differences between individuals but also reconcile serious systemic issues, access to opportunity, equality. It's a very long journey and this is why coexistence becomes a very useful tool because it does recognize that it will take a very long time for a woman who has been brutally raped by someone from a different ethnic group, to trust anyone from that ethnic group, to start a shop with someone from that ethnic group, or to work in a store with someone from that ethnic group.
We also have to recognize that there are different layers of cooperation. There is a very superficial cooperation: if that woman needs a job, it is likely that she will take the job, but to what extent has she changed her attitude, not towards any individual in that group, but towards the issue of difference in general. So how can we work with different professional fields, how can we work with rehabilitation, how can we work with disarmament, with child psychologists, to really reconstruct relationships in communities and, to some extent, reconstruct individuals. That sounds a little bit formulaic, but there are some structural ways to really heal people. There are reconciliation commissions, which have been very powerful in the past in letting out what's happened. The power of information has shown to have a great effect on changing the way that people deal with trauma. Just knowing what happened can be a process in and of itself.
S: Some of the lessons we learned from the experiences in South Africa is that trust, reconciliation and a platform for negotiation are key to helping communities that have been divided for so long find a way to live better together. Those were pretty much the primary themes as well as economic interdependence. The extent to which one side needs the other for either employment or for work, to run a business, that is pretty important. In one case there was a boycott against the white businesses, they were owned by white business men, by the community at large and as a result of the boycott the businesses realized that they couldn't sustain their own livelihood without finding a way to get along better with the other side. So there are mechanisms that have been instituted that have sparked a better collaboration, at least within South Africa.