News 2009

African migrants bring hope to their school

Crispin Hemson, Director of ICON, has carried out a research project on the experiences of African migrants in a Durban primary school.  The project began as a response to the xenophobia experienced by migrants from other countries in Africa.

The study, which will soon be published in an academic journal, records the difficulties faced by migrants, both in their difficult journeys to South Africa (some of which took place under conditions of war), and after arrival.  One of these is the difficulty of having to adapt to new languages, especially within school; another is poverty.  Despite these difficulties, the migrants display confidence and a fascination with learning; as a result many are doing remarkably well.

‘The school has been supportive of the young migrants, and this has worked well, both for the migrants and for the school itself, which is now associated with high academic achievement.  One thing that the project reveals is how successful learning can in fact be in a South African school that has limited resources’, said Crispin Hemson, ICON Director.

He argues that young migrants in a new context cannot fall back on the assumptions that they brought from their home country.  Social exclusion may make them unwilling to adopt the attitudes of the society they enter, and instead they forge their own understanding of and responses to their situation.  While the role of their families is important, the young migrants have to develop responses that are different, as they are in a different context to that of their parents.

‘I see migrancy not so much as a problem for South Africa as a vital resource that can be harnessed to be positive for both South Africans and migrants.  We need the infusion of fresh perspectives that migrants bring.  Xenophobia is a blight that harms all of us, ‘ says Crispin Hemson.

Director of ICON writes on violence and memories of violence

Two recent articles by the Director address the legacy of violence, both nationally and internationally. We need new ways of healing past wounds: published in The Mercury 10 June 2011. This dealt with the legacy of violence arising from the Magoo’s Bar bombing of 14 June 1986.  Read full article.

Can this death bring an end to the cycle of violence? Published in The Mercury 6 May 2011. This dealt with the death of Osama Bin Laden. Read full article. Read full article.

Seminar addresses challenges of nonviolent action

In a society where some form of violence is typical of most action for change, not enough attention is given to the possibilities that nonviolent action offers.  An ICON seminar by Professor John Moolakkattu, Gandhi-Luthuli Chair of Peace Studies at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, on 13th October, posed challenging questions about such possibilities.

Professor Moolakkattu addresses the seminar
Professor Moolakkattu addresses the seminar

His seminar addressed first arguments for the use of violence, and then demonstrated the limitations and failures of such approaches.  Occasionally violence leads to a good outcome, but in most cases it generates further violence and thus costs for the society.  In contrast, nonviolent action is not always successful, but has the great advantages of keeping options open, and of enabling greater public participation.

A key distinction, Professor Moolakkattu argued, is between nonviolent action that is based on a principled commitment to a philosophy of nonviolence, as with Gandhi, and nonviolent action that is purely strategic, and that can be used by a group with any political motive.  Many peace activists take a middle position between these.

There is a great need for developing models of nonviolent action in our society.  Without such models, people will use violent means because of not having an understanding of the options open to them.

In discussion, one point made was that government should respond more quickly to the needs of people when they are expressed in reasonable ways, and that this would motivate people less to use destructive forms of protest.

Another point related to the role of ICON – we are not just in favour of nonviolence, but in favour of nonviolent action directed towards positive social and political purposes, such as full participation in democracy.  Click here for Prof. Moolakkattu’s presentation.

ICON works with faculties on developing a programme for all incoming students

ICON continues to collaborate with staff of Durban University of Technology (DUT) to develop a The module will address a range of social and educational issues: dealing with the HIV/AIDS pandemic, dealing with issues of diversity, developing nonviolent approaches to social change, and developing academic skills.

The first task has been to develop a set of learning outcomes that will be considered by each faculty at DUT.  Once these have been agreed to, ICON and other resource people will work with the faculties to develop the actual teaching, which may take different forms depending on the faculty concerned.

The intention is to launch teaching in some faculties in early 2012.

Research into experiences of academic staff

ICON has initiated a study into how academic staff experience their inclusion into academic life.  The study, headed by Crispin Hemson, Acting Director of ICON, and Professor Prenitha Singh, head of the Department of Media, Language and Communication at Durban University of Technology (DUT), aims to understand how staff experience the institution.

‘The study follows our interest in building an inclusive culture in higher education, which is itself often a site of conflict.  There is limited research in this area.  However, the alienation of staff, especially African staff, in higher education, that was revealed in the Report of the Ministerial Committee on Higher Education, needs to be better understood’, said Mr Hemson.

The study will consist of both qualitative and quantitative phases.  An email to all academic staff at Durban University of Technology will solicit responses to a short questionnaire.  Staff will also be invited to participate in interviews.

‘To build a culture of nonviolence, we need to find ways of addressing all stakeholders in higher education,’ said Mr Hemson.

Young people work on projects for Safe Schools

Projects that focus on social, educational or environmental issues are being adopted by young students from schools linked to ICON’s Safe Schools programme. Youngsters are developing their projects for presentation on Freedom Day, 27th April 2010.

Among the projects currently being proposed by the young people are these:

  • A project to research the history of Phambili High School in Rossburgh. This school was originally set up to cater for young people returning to South Africa from exile.
  • Planting of shrubs and flowers at Lamontville High School.
  • A drama project by a group of youngsters that will address issues of drugs and violence.

Action against Xenophobia

ICON co-hosted a workshop on World Refugee Day with the Coalition against Xenophobia, Racism and Poverty (Caxrep).  This aimed to celebrate the work undertaken by local activists in the eThekwini Metro a year before, to resist xenophobia, and to map the way ahead.

Cheerful particicpants

Busisiwe Ndlovu, an activist from Lindelani, a largely informal settlement in Durban, spoke of confronting local people to insist that foreign Africans were human beings and must be treated as such.

Crispin Hemson, Acting Director of ICON, said. ‘Instead of seeing migrancy as a problem to be managed, we can see it as a force that infuses South African society with fresh perspectives, skills and diversity. Our task is to build a culture that values and works with difference.’

Universities Need to Act, and Act with Commitment

An ICON presentation on 29th July 2009 heard the evidence of how racism and related forms of discrimination have a ‘corrosive’ effect on the work of universities and the lives of those involved in them.

Professor Crain Soudien, who chairs the Ministerial Committee on Transformation and Social Cohesion and the Elimination of Discrimination in Public Higher Education Institutions, outlined their Report to an audience mainly of DUT staff and students.  His presentation, entitled ‘The Challenge of Transformation in South African Higher Education’, provided some disturbing evidence on how black staff experience exclusion, and on how women are subject to sexual harassment on all university campuses.

Professor Soudien, who is Acting DVC: Transformation, at the University of Cape Town, pointed out that there was a long history of academic activity in South Africa that had been obsessed with finding a rational basis for race.  This, and the continuation of racism at universities, distorts what universities are for.  In fact there is no biological basis for race, though we need to acknowledge the effects of belief in race.

Professor Crain Soudien
Professor Crain Soudien

His view is that universities will be under pressure to demonstrate how they will address such issues.  Despite the negative findings, South Africa is uniquely placed to acknowledge the nature of the problems and to develop new ways of imagining society.
Click here for Professor Soudien’s presentation.
The Report of the Ministerial Committee is available here.


July seminar: Men and violence

Ira Horowitz, who works with men in prisons in Florida, USA, gave an ICON seminar in July. He spoke in depth on his work both in South Africa and the USA.

Ira Horowitz
Ira Horowitz

This work involved men in reflecting on how they had been brought up, and on the messages that had been communicated to them about their place in society. One implication is that it becomes evidence how the socialisation of men pushes towards violence.  While sexism may privilege men, it also constrains their lives and harms their relationships with other men as well as with women and children. Read Paper AgendaArt. 


ICON to launch project on Safe Schools

Planning for the Workshop

As part of its work to promote a culture of nonviolence within the institutions of society, ICON is to run a workshop for student leadership from schools that have been exposed to violence and disruption.  This arose from requests from students who feel frustrated that they are not playing a fully effective role in addressing the challenges they face. An initial planning meeting has taken place, and a two day workshop will be held later in September, to develop a longer-term intervention.  This will take youth leaders from four schools in the Durban area.  ‘The initiative came from these young people, who have a strong sense of the problems they face.  The workshop will develop the model that ICON will use in future,’ said Crispin Hemson, Acting Director of ICON.

The philosophy underlying the workshop is that there are many resources that can be used in these contexts, not least the knowledge the young people have about their context, and the networks that they have established.  Often what is lacking is the support for young leaders who try to act, leading to isolation and despondency.  How the leaders can counter this to create more positive outcomes is what the workshop will address.

Violence at Kennedy Road

ICON has expressed its deep concern over the violent conflict in the Kennedy Road settlement in Durban, which led to over 1 000 residents being forced out of the area.  The Acting Director attended a stakeholders meeting held in the Kennedy Road hall on 4th October under the auspices of the provincial Member of Executive Committee responsible for safety and security, Mr Willies Mchunu.  That meeting was not attended by representatives of those expelled, but it was felt that ICON should attend to observe and to raise some critical points. The points Crispin Hemson raised concerned the plight of refugees, the possibilities for negotiation between the parties to the conflict, and the danger in mishandling this conflict, as it could spread to the many other areas which include informal settlements.

Some of the comments made at the meeting were provocative, not least a call to ban the Pondo imfene dance, as it was seen as threatening ‘in our culture’, and attacks on ‘criminals who oppose development’.  Mr Hemson has backed calls for a public enquiry, warned of the danger of ethnic mobilisation, and called for efforts to ensure that all residents of such settlements can have complete freedom of association. In further discussion on this issue at the ICON Board, the position of ICON was reiterated.

Kennedy Road Settlement

Our way of operating is not to take sides with one or other party to such conflicts, but we will act in ways that keep open the possibility that parties can work with each other to find positive outcomes.  We work, in the longer term, is to ensure that all South Africans, whether or not they are in informal settlements, experience a culture of nonviolence, and can pursue their interests freely and without intimidation.  To achieve this, ICON will continue to pursue educational work that promotes an understanding of violence and of ways in which people can use nonviolent means of working for positive social change.

Kennedy Road Settlement Crispin Hemson has been writing about racism, violence and reconciliation: Read more….