I spent the month of May at the University of Seychelles helping to establish the Sir James Mancham International Centre of Peace Studies and Diplomacy. (Mancham was a former president who was deposed by a coup in 1977 and lived in exile until 1992, when he returned with a strong commitment to reconciliation. He died just a few months ago and the driving force behind the centre’s establishment was lost).
At one level, the Seychelles is like paradise – friendly people, warm (at times very hot) weather, wonderful beaches and seas of remarkable blues. But there some big issues close to the surface
• Human rights abuses and economic losses between 1977 and 1993 have left many people traumatised and angry; a truth and reconciliation process has only just begun
• Drug and alcohol addiction rates are high (one estimate puts the number of heroin users at 5 000 in a population of 90 000) and this leads to break-ins and robberies
• Gender based violence, family breakup and neglect of children are widespread.
Seychelles combines idyllic scenes with challenging social issues
There is certainly a role for the Centre in promoting new ways of thinking and acting about such domestic challenges. In addition, within the wider Indian Ocean community (the Maldives, Seychelles, Comoros, Madagascar, Mauritius and Reunion) there are the threats of piracy, poaching of marine resources and the effects of climate change.
The Centre’s steering committee and trustees are examining the most effective ways of tackling with such issues. Most will involve building networks of peacebuilders and others to support each other and to learn from one another’s experiences.
A DUT Dialogue on gender-based violence brought to the fore deep concerns over personal security in the current situation. Women spoke of their fears, and those of their friends, of going to and from campus. A woman spoke of an experience of being followed and intimidated in the street. Men spoke of the buses from residences to campus being empty of women.
At present rumours of abductions of women are circulating on social media, following a noted case in which a young woman’s body was found burnt in Johannesburg, and her partner charged with the crime. This led to a controversial hashtag on social media; #menaretrash. In the dialogue some men expressed outrage over the hashtag, while women insisted that the key issue is abuse, not a hashtag.
Nokuthula Magudulela on how socialisation of boys is a factor in the abuse we witness and experience
A particular point of conflict within the dialogue was the issue of women’s behaviour. Two men argued that a key element in sexual violence against women is women’s clothing that triggers men to rape. This drew a heated response, one being that this argument itself demeans men by portraying them as rapists-in-waiting, who spring into action when triggered.
Cabanga ka Mpanza insists that men take responsibility and speak to each other about how they think about and act towards women.
Various points for action were identified; one being to find ways in which women who feel insecure in public spaces should be able to approach other people for assistance without the fear of being exploited; others included how women in the role of mothers should address their son’s socialisation and how men speak to other men about these issues.
Members of the DUT group, Girls Against Sexual Violence and Abuse, spoke on their work at a meeting of the Indlebe group at Diakonia on 16th February. They spoke about the patterns of violence on campuses and how they are reaching women and men on these issues. The work of GASVA is linked to the Masters study of Ms Nokuthula Magudulela, who was with GASVA at the Diakonia meeting. The Indlebe group was interested to know how the organisation of young people can bring positive social change in the area of gender relations.
Two of the GASVA delegation, Wandiswa Dlamini and Nandi Hlengwa
An annual programme, Innovative Leadership, has become increasingly popular as an avenue for young leaders. This is open to all students at Durban University of Technology, but also to other local activists.
The Programme in particular fosters leadership as a nonviolent activity, leadership that is understood as a service to people instead of domination over people. Apart from attendance at monthly sessions at which members interact with leaders of this calibre, each participant is part of a project group that tackles a specific issue – work with the homeless, gender-based violence, dialogue, water and the environment, promoting the South African Constitution, school counselling, and HIV/AIDS support.
Members meet at the initial year’s session on 10th February 2017
This provides a rare opportunity for young leaders to develop in conditions of support
An intake of over 25 new students onto the doctoral cohort of the Peacebuilding Programme has swelled the total number of doctoral students to over 60. This large group comes from many different parts of Africa. It is anticipated that at least eight doctorates will be bestowed this year on members of the cohort. This is the largest doctoral programme
New members of the doctoral group in the Peacebuilding Programme on a visit to Phoenix Settlement, former home of Mahatma Gandhi. On the right is Dr Sylvia Kaye, and left back is Professor Geoff Harris.
at Durban University of Technology.