When Professor Laurie Nathan, director of the Kroc Institute Mediation Program, was a South African graduate student, he was engaged in the anti-apartheid struggle – and fiercely opposed to mediation. He believed that mediators should get off the fence and join the struggle.
“We wanted to defeat the apartheid regime,” said Nathan. “We were not interested in mediation.”
Following the end of apartheid in South Africa in 1994, however, not long after Nathan earned his Master’s degree in Peace Studies from University of Bradford, his perspective on mediation underwent a transformation. He joined the Centre for Conflict Resolution at the University of Cape Town, where he developed a deep interest in the art of mediation. “I found it fascinating,” Nathan reflected. “From political and intellectual standpoints, as well as ethically and psychologically, mediation is an extremely challenging endeavor.”
Over the ensuing years, Nathan served as the director at the Centre, and his research and practice gradually shifted from focusing on security sector reform in South Africa, to encompassing a broader peacemaking and peacebuilding scope across the African continent. Notably, he played a pivotal role as a member of the African Union Mediation Team for Darfur during the civil war in Sudan that unfolded in the early 2000s. As his influence increased, so did his argument – that international mediation should be professionalized.
“Mediation is a specialized field with a distinct body of knowledge, tactics and techniques,” Nathan emphasized. “It requires training, regardless of one’s natural talents.”
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