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Peace Committees In Troubled Communities

Peace committees have been described as a sort of community restorative justice project, which has been taking root in some very deprived areas of Cape Town, South Africa. John Cartwright from IDEASWORK, the Programme Co-ordinator of the Peace Committee project, described their work at a seminar at NACRO on 5 February 2004.

The project had its origins in the need to reinvent things in the early 1990s, after the end of apartheid. This applied especially to policing, which had been highly repressive. The African National congress realized that it needed policies, and invited Clifford Shearing from Toronto as a consultant. He stressed that community safety is not the monopoly of the police. In 1996 the Ministry of Justice challenged Shearing to show that poor communities have the capacity to resolve their own problems. He established the Community Peacemaking Programme, which began working in a project called Zwelethemba (Country of Hope), in a township with a population of about 30,000. There was a strong community spirit, and he consulted the community as to how people can use local knowledge to create conflict management.

The Nqubala Community Peace Centre was started in 2003, serving a population of about 8000. In partnership with the police, the police station was transformed into a CPC. When cases come in, the police either respond or refer them. Police training is important.

Cartwright felt that the role of local communities was undervalued, and stressed both the importance and the limits of professionalization. To build a transferrable, testable and accountable model, he started talking with local people about leadership, and asking what qualities are needed. The most important was not technique, but respect. However, a code of practice with regular reviews was felt to be necessary. The Code of Practice states that members aim to create a safe and secure environment in the community, respect the South African Constitution, work within the law, do not use violence or take sides, do not gossip, and heal not hurt.

The Peace Committee invites disputants for an interview; the aim is to hold a peace gathering within 2 days. There, statements are taken from both sides. The facilitator reads them both out; they can be added to or amended. They include the background, and sources of the problem. Little distinction is made between civil and criminal cases. Common outcomes are an apology and a plan of action; it may turn out that the ‘victim’ had been insulting the ‘offender’, or ignoring his complaints Usually the process ends with a celebration, and people come out smiling.

The Peace Committee has no standing chairperson; each has a lead facilitator and a scribe. Most of the cases it deals with are minor, but there is potential for preventing them from escalating into something more serious. There are now 15 committees, and 6000 peace gatherings have been held. The aim is to have 60, with one in nearly every police station.

Facilitators are paid for each case they undertake, as a recognition of the contribution of the local community. A Peace Gathering Report is made; when it has been checked, a payment of 200 Rands is made. ThePeace Committee receives 200 Rands (about £25) for each case, of which 30 per cent is split between peace committee members, 30 per cent is invested in a loan fund to support local micro-enterprises, 30 per cent for peacebuilding activities, and 10 per cent for administrative expenses. Although this amount is a drop in the ocean, it does allow for example a programme to improve children’s nutrition, and a children’s playground.

A distinctive feature of the programme is that it has two parts: peacemaking, which deals with individual problems, and peacebuilding, which thinks about generic problems and preventive strategies.

In answer to questions, John Cartwright said that there are no guidelines for police in their role as gatekeepers, but the project saves them from spending their time on things they are not trained for. The project does not deal with the most serious crimes, such as rape or murder, but may deal with the aftermath of rape.

Participants are given exit interviews, asking who them would have gone to if the Peace Committee had not existed. 66 per cent say ‘the police’; the programme is working with the police.

Funding has come initially from the Wallenberg Foundation in Sweden, and now the Finnish Embassy. From 2010 the aim is to create local sustainability with local government support. Police are also funding it, because it increases police effectiveness.

There is no specific legislation about the project; it is felt that that would kill it, and it is unnecessary, because the project operates within the law.

The programme has copyrighted its training materials, as a way of maintaining the integrity of the process. Although they work on co-operation with the government, they assert their independence of it. The process could go off the rails if not supervised.

In contrast to the British culture of going to the state or the council with problems, the South African state simply cannot provide so many services. The peace committees offer another option first.

The programme articulates its own indicators of success. Peace gatherings are also held to deal with internal problems within a Peace Committee restoratively.

John Cartwright believes that the programme creates community, builds civility, creates ‘social capital’, through people working together, and promotes a virtuous circle of peacebuilding activities, which develop organically.


Martin Wright

Martin Wright was an early advocate for restorative justice in the UK and Europe, and continues to provide leadership there and abroad.   Martin Wright was an early advocate for restorative justice in the UK and Europe, and continues to provide leadership there and abroad.  He has written three books,… MORE >

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