A phrase that appears in the title of the first article in this issue points to a phenomenon that is explicitly or implicitly relevant in the other articles as well: changing role. All of us know this little phrase very well, but most of us will probably say that we do not use it very often. It is so that in our daily life the situations which prompt us to consider or propagate a role change may be few and far between. It is in situations where conflict appears on the scene, subtly disguised or blatantly manifest, that we tend to practise some wishful thinking about certain people changing their roles.
The articles and book reviews in this issue provide us with case studies, discussions and conclusions that may shape our thinking about the possibilities of changed roles. As we read, we may keep a few questions in mind and be on the look-out for answers. For instance: Are we limited to wishful thinking in this regard? Or can anything be done to initiate, facilitate or encourage a role change that might lead to conflict resolution and/or reconciliation?
In the article on women changing their role from instigators of violence to builders of peace, we find three episodes of women adhering to their firmly established traditional role, and two episodes of women courageously breaking away and leading others in the direction of peace. These initiatives emerged from inner motives, but in each case there were others who responded and joined the effort.
In the article on the role of the print media we read about editors and journalists who focus more on conflict and its escalation, but also about some who publish reports related to reconciliation. This article then also gives clear recommendations for encouraging the people of the print media to fulfil a realistic and responsible role.
The third article describes the predicament of citizens and ‘non-citizens’ deprived of human security and other human rights by one-track-minded politicians. In this case no optimistic examples could be given, but between the lines there is a clear call to such politicians to change their mindset and role. A similar message to politicians is embedded in the last article. As one reads this account of a ‘dialogue’, one realises how participants, addicted to power and slogans, were entrapped in monologues, and how a change of role was totally unthinkable to them.
Nevertheless, we know that there have been politicians who have changed their roles – with dramatic and far-reaching effects. Moreover, the books reviewed in this issue can equip and inspire us to play very significant roles as influential or even as ordinary citizens, or as ‘partners’ in a conflict, or as counteractors of gender-based violence.
It may be interesting and useful to remember that the expression of playing a role functions in two semantic fields. The one is that of an actor playing a part in a play. The other is that of performing a particular task in an undertaking. It is obviously this second meaning that we are talking about. The women of Darfur who changed their roles did not merely act something for the show; they committed themselves to a new responsibility. When such a ‘small miracle’ happens in a conflict situation, surprising effects may follow. But should we only wait passively and wishfully for such a possible change, or are there ways in which we may help to pave the way towards a turn into a new direction?
Our South African experience prompts me to add a concluding comment. We remain endlessly grateful for crucial role changes that genuinely took place within people. But we could not help noticing that some of those who were compelled to act in new roles, apparently internalised them and are now actually living these roles.