In a nutshell
The Peace Committee Model is a specific and tested model for the resolution of disputes within communities through the establishment of Peace Committees.
What we do
Introduction to the Peace Committee Model
Peace Committees are structures which facilitate individuals in a community coming together to resolve disputes within the community. The purpose of these committees is to create an ongoing relatable structure that people in the community, government and others can connect with when disputes arise. When a Peace Committee is established, it announces itself within the community as a group who will facilitate the resolution of disputes. The Committee also informs the community about the values which it is committed to. These values are outlined in the Committee’s Code of Good Practice. A core value enshrined in many Peace Committee’s Codes is "we do not use force to solve problems".
The Peace Committee Model has two main processes, these are the Peacemaking process and the Peace building process.
Background to the Peace Committee Model
A pilot Peace Committee initiative was implemented in Zwelethemba, in Worcester, in 1998. This project was undertaken by the Community Peace Programme at the School of Government at the University of the Western Cape. The Peace Committee project was supported by the Department of Justice and the South African Police Service in Worcester.
The team who developed the Zwelethemba Peace Committee model, sought to create a model of dispute resolution that was a) simple, b) attractive to both communities and state agencies, and c) replicable in other similar communities.
The development of the Peace Committee model was also fuelled by a concern to create structures and processes that are sustainable and that empower people living in poverty to:
- Control and direct what happens in their communities;
- Rely on their own knowledge and capacity in planning and implementing initiatives; and
- Be able to access money to support the planning and implementation of their initiatives.
The Peace Committee model, while broadly designed to enable people to manage their own lives, provides specific and concrete processes by which communities can address disputes. Many disputes are related to relatively minor issues. However, if these disputes are not dealt with quickly, peacefully and effectively, they can escalate and become disastrous.
The Evolution of the Peace Committee Model
The continuing evolution of the Peace Committee model took place against the background of a very broad and important question. That is, ‘’What kind of partnership can be built between the state and civil society, in which the resources, knowledge, capacity and responsibility of each party can be given practicable and effective expression?’’
From the beginning of the pilot project in Zwelethemba in 1998, a good working relationship was established with the SAPS and the Department of Justice, at both the national and the provincial levels. Similar informal relationships of mutual referral were established with the station commissioners and magistrates in areas in which the Peace Committees came to operate.
As part of this process, the Community Peace Programme took on a regulatory role, in relation both to financial accounting and to the monitoring of the Peacemaking and Peace building procedures.
Procedures were developed to ensure that the principle of utilising local knowledge and capacity, was given practical effect. In addition, detailed operational procedures for managing Peace Committees on a wider scale were constantly refined as the network expanded. This was done through ensuring that local people were part of the process through which the principles and procedures they would be applying, were developed. This insistence on the full participation of civil society, was matched by an insistence on pursuing mutually respectful partnerships with state agencies.
The strength of the Peace Committee Model lies in:
- the lawful and effective mobilisation of local knowledge and capacity around local conflicts and problems;
- the consequent negotiation of complementary relationships with state agencies, in the service of the public good.
The Peace Committee project ran primarily in the Western Cape, but with several Peace Committees in the Free State. There were plans for further expansion. However, in 2009, the Peace Committee project ended, as a result of an ending to the funding of the project. The reasons for the ending of funding are not entirely clear. Funding at the time it ended was provided through the Office of the President, and ended, without explanation, soon after Jacob Zuma took office.
How we do it
The Peacemaking Process
When a dispute arose in a community, community members brought the dispute to the local Peace Committee. People chose to bring a dispute to a Peace Committee when they did not want to resort to vigilantism but also did not want to engage with the criminal justice system.
Problems and disputes brought to Peacemaking gatherings included unpaid loans, child maintenance, insults, fighting, petty theft and domestic violence. In all these matters, the gathering of appropriate local people in a facilitative environment was key to the resolution of the dispute and the agreement on workable and effective plans of future-oriented action.
When a dispute was brought to a Peace Committee, the Committee assigned three or more people to facilitate a dispute resolution. The Committee members then invited the disputants and community members to a Peacemaking Gathering which was held within a few days of the dispute, at the house of a Peace Committee member or at a local Peace Centre. It was important that the location of the Peacemaking Gathering be informal and non-threatening. The purpose of this gathering was to bring together the disputants and any other people who could be in a position to help understand and resolve the dispute.
The Peacemaking Gathering
The Peacemaking Gathering was facilitated by the Peace Committee, but everybody who was present was encouraged to participate. The Gathering was opened by reading the Peace Committee’s Code of Good Practice. The Peace Committee members then guided the Gathering through several stages:
- First, Peace Committee members would take a statement from each disputant separately.
- Second, both statements of events were read out in the presence of the committee, so that the main factors underlying the dispute could be identified. All those affected by the incident could share their views, which could help to provide a more comprehensive picture of what happened and if there were any other related issues. While the issues which resulted in the dispute were discussed, the focus of the gathering was always on the future and what could be done to reduce the likelihood of the issue or similar problems reoccurring. Everyone at the Peacemaking Gathering had the opportunity to share their opinions without being interrupted, however, members and those at the gathering were not to engage in blaming or judging. Further, their role was not to offer solutions to the disputants.
- Thirdly, a discussion was held to agree upon a Plan of Action, to ensure that the problem did not happen again. In almost every case a Plan of Action could be agreed upon. All parties bound by the Plan of Action, would then sign to show their commitment. If specific things had to be done the plan would list these items and identify who was responsible for doing what.
- Finally, in closing, disputants who wanted to apologise and show that they had reconciled, would do. However, this was not necessary if the disputants did not believe that it would be helpful. At the closing of the Peacemaking Gathering many Peace Committees would engage in a peace-making gesture, such as a dance, a song, or a prayer, which symbolised everyone’s commitment to what had been decided.
During the Peacemaking Gathering, the Peace Committee members would complete a report on what happened. This report was then sent to a central office where statistics were prepared. Feedback was then provided to each Peace Committee on a monthly basis.
For every peacemaking gathering that was held according to the rules agreed upon, a payment of R300 was made to the Peace Committee. Payments were made to Peace Committee members on proof of their engagement in specific peacemaking gatherings. There was no payment from community members who brought matters to the Peace Committees. The payment was a form of recognition and remuneration for the services provided by the Peace Committee members. The rationale for remunerating the Peace Committee members was that professionals are generally paid for the services they render, while poor people are often expected to volunteer. Of the R300 that was paid to the Peace Committee, R200 was paid to the Peace Committee members who facilitated the Peacemaking Gathering, and R100 was allocated to a Peace building fund. The Peace building fund was used to fund projects or individuals who developed responsible and entrepreneurial initiatives to address long-term problems in their community. The rationale for the Peace building fund was that it ensured that communities could use their own money, which they had earned, to spend on initiatives they thought would contribute best to upliftment of their community.
The Peace Building Process
The Peace building process worked in the same way as the Peacemaking process, with the exception that with Peace building the Peace Committee was dealing with broader generic problems rather than with individual disputes. If the Peace Committee came to the conclusion – either as a result of a pattern they noticed in disputes or through regular base-line surveys – that there was a long-term problem that needed to be addressed, they would arrange for one or more Solutions Gatherings to determine a) possible options for resolving the underlying problem and b) who could be commissioned to carry out the work. Funding required for these initiatives was paid for out of the money that had been built up in their Peace building fund.
This Peace building process broadened the Peace Committee model from being a conflict management model to a governance model, as Peace building is not limited to security. Individual disputes which were brought to Peacemaking gatherings were seen as a starting-point in the peacemaking and peace building process. The Peace Committees brought people together and mobilised their knowledge and experience to facilitate the resolving of disputes and the development of longer-term solutions to underlying challenges facing their community.
What we have achieved
As of February 2009
- The Peace Committee model had been implemented in 180 communities.
- The Peace Committees had facilitated the resolution of over 40 000 peace-gatherings.
- The peace-gatherings had generated about R2 500 000 in revenues for Peace Committees, with all of this revenue subsequently being spent in these communities.
- Thousands of individuals had been involved in participating directly in solving problems in their communities through the peace-gatherings. In 96% of the gatherings held, the participants developed a course of action and people committed themselves to it.
What we have learned
The Peace Committee project confirmed the basic underlying hypothesis: namely, that even the poorest communities have a wealth of local knowledge, but that the challenge is to mobilise this knowledge in a respectful, peaceful, effective and sustainable manner.
The Peace Committee project could be restarted but it would require sustainable funding. However, the basic principles underlying the Peace Committee model could be implemented in different forms. Indeed, these principles are consistent with principles that underlie current safety initiatives supported by the government of the Western Cape.
A special thank you to John Cartwright for providing the content of this page and to Clifford Shearing for his contributions.