South Africa’s Women’s Peace Table Calls for Peace and Security

At a time of a health crisis, societal tensions, and social-political unrest in South Africa, now, more than ever, we need to bring a meaning to solidarity and put our hands and hearts together to explore how we can rebuild social cohesion and peace in a divided South Africa.

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Photo by James Oatway/Getty Images
Photo by James Oatway/Getty Images

During the period of unrest that gripped the country earlier this month, women peacebuilders from across South Africa rallied in response. Refusing to be bystanders, women and youth associations, networks, community leaders, academics, politicians and peacebuilders quickly mobilized as frontline respondents to the crisis. Responses included solidarity messages, humanitarian assistance, calling for an end to the looting and violence or took the more long-range approach of trying to reflect and analyse the test put to the resilience of South Africa’s young democracy. During this time, women in various communities stood together to not only be caregivers for their families, but to organise themselves as neighbourhood watchers, vocal advocates against violence and looting and stand as resilient peacebuilders. Even as they bear the brunt of conflict and exacerbated by the unrest, our women have been at the forefront and will continue to be.

During the period of unrest that gripped the country earlier this month, women peacebuilders from across South Africa rallied in response

As part of the various women-led peacebuilding initiatives, the South African Women’s Peace Table convened on 19July 2021, under the auspices of the Gertrude Shope Women Mediators Network. This peace table had 3 core objectives (1) engage in conflict de-escalation, management and prevention; (2) create unity of purpose and social cohesion; and (3) rebuild South Africa’s peace infrastructure. The framework for this response was informed by the South Africa’s National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security.

Affirming the vision of peace and security for all in their diversity, the Peace Table was an inclusive and locally owned platform with over three hundred participants who represented collective efforts and action, and local knowledge and practice. 

In its Declaration, the South African Women’s Peace Table participants reaffirmed commitment to democracy, the rule of law and the civil, political, socio-economic and cultural rights promised in our country’s Constitution. They recommitted to the promotion of peace and human security. The participants took cognisance that women, girls and gender non-conforming people bear the disproportionate brunt of the impact of violence and toxic masculinity. At the same time note was taken of the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on poverty and inequality and especially the disproportionate impact on women and children.

Women in South Africa in all our diversity declared to,

  1. champion peace and security for all who live in South Africa;
  2. support relief and recovery efforts during this crisis, including access to information on how to access urgent socio-economic rights such as food, water, medicine (including vaccines) and social security grants;
  3. work towards developing and implementing conflict prevention mechanisms, which draw on indigenous knowledge and traditional peacebuilding mechanisms, at all levels;
  4. support the convening of a national dialogue and local peace tables as part of a process of reconciliation and transitional justice in South Africa;
  5. initiate a process of collective healing from this and other long-standing traumas that the citizens of this country have experienced;
  6. ask local, provincial and national governments to pledge to use their power and mandate to remove corruption; ensure social justice by implementing a universal basic income grant; implementation of a wealth tax; and ensure access to the rights to food security, healthcare and social security grants for children, pensioners and people with disabilities; as well as to support small business and those in the informal economy;
  7. develop and implement a post-conflict peacebuilding plan for South Africa that includes a focus on security sector reform, democratic governance, humanitarian relief and psychosocial support;
  8. implement the National Action Plan on Women Peace and Security; and
  9. develop inclusive peacebuilding in which women, youth, disabled and LGBTQI++ communities play a meaningful role in peace and security decision-making and response mechanisms.

The Peace Table acknowledged that the incidents of violence, loss of life, looting and mayhem witnessed during the crisis were manifestations of far deeper political and structural problems in South Africa. It highlighted the systemic nature of the challenges facing the country and that the orchestrated crisis was an affront to our hard fought for democracy, including the rule of law, 

Many women have been trained as mediators nationally and continentally. Now was the time to apply their peacebuilding skills

Large scale poverty, inequality and unemployment, as well as inter and intra-party-political divisions and inadequate security provisioning, created an opportunity in which the poor and the most vulnerable found themselves caught up in “big men” politics 

Participants at the Peace Table then deliberated further in six commissions – (1) Conflict Prevention; (2) Reconciliation: Dialogues and Transitional Justice; (3) Post- Conflict Reconstruction/Psychosocial support; (4) Economic and Gender Justice; (5) Humanitarian Relief; (6) Youth Peace Journey 

The Commissions produced recommendations in each area that provides a framework for responding to the aftermath of the social unrest and provides clear pathways of responses informed by dialogue and a cross sectoral contribution of conditions on the ground, policy frameworks and what institutions in their various formations are able to provide to the process. Throughout the deliberations at the Peace Table, women were reminded that conflict and poverty are deeply gendered and that there are many frameworks in place that affirm women’s participation in peace processes.  Many women have been trained as mediators nationally and continentally. Now was the time to apply their peacebuilding skills.

Therefore, as the co-conveners, the recommendations captured in the Outcome Statement of the South African Women’s Peace Table, in our assessment sets up an immediate framework of priorities that have been consulted upon and a framework for multi-stakeholder and cross sectoral responses. We call on institutions and various stakeholders to use the Outcome Statement to refocus some of the planned responses to align themselves with the identified needs and the responses the current context calls for.

Pravina Makan-Lakha is an Advisor on Women, Peace and Security at ACCORD. Charlotte Lobe is the Acting Chief Operations Officer at the Department of International Relations and Cooperation in South Africa and Professor Cheryl Hendricks is the Executive Head of the Africa Institute of South Africa. 

ACCORD recognizes its longstanding partnerships with the European Union, and the Governments of Canada, Finland, Ireland, Norway, South Africa, Sweden, UK, and USA.

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