News 2011

Campus dialogue: drama sets off heated debate

The drama

ICON has initiated a broad debate on the DUT student strike of 2011. The strike earlier this year, which had a major impact on students and staff, including disruption of classes and some violent incidents, caused deep division between various groups on campus.On 5th October a student group from the DUT Drama Department presented their drama of the strike, including presentation of some of the key events of the strike as seen by different sectors of the DUT community.

Some participants.

Listening to a police officer.

The audience included a large group of students, a few staff members, and a group of police officers from the local police station.The drama led immediately into vigorous debate on both the justification for the strike and the issues of violence and nonviolence. The police spoke on their experiences and on the basis on which they act in situations of conflict. At times discussion became heated, and at one point a group of students including some SRC members left the room.Crispin Hemson, ICON Director, said that the event revealed that many members of the DUT community are alienated by the events but withdrawing from engagement. ‘Without ways of communicating across the roles of students and staff, and without developing agreement on how issues are resolved, issues can escalate rapidly into damaging conflict.

ICON works with girls on resilience to violence

A society with high levels of violence poses particular challenges to girls. ICON is working with a diverse group of 24 girls on a project to develop girls’ leadership in this area. The girls, who come from different schools and a girls’ home, have been working on their experience of violence and ways of providing support to each other through a series of Saturday workshops.

Some of the girls who are participating in the workshops

Crispin Hemson, ICON Director, reports on the growing confidence within the group. ‘What is emerging is a sense of both the challenges that girls face and the possibilities for moving beyond violence.’ In one incident, a girl walking to the workshop one day was accosted by two men who wanted to take what she was carrying.She punched them and they ran away. This focused attention on girls’ vulnerability in such contexts, but also the sense of confidence that girls can develop.The aim is to develop a core group of leaders who can in time lead such work themselves. The project has been made possible through the generous support of Willowton Oils.

The Mercury publishes a series by the ICON Director

Crispin Hemson is writing an ongoing series on issues of society, violence and nonviolence. These are available through the following links:

1 There’s more to extreme old age than confusion and chaos 24 August 2011
2 The challenge of moving on after a history of violence 5 September 2011

Mandela and the risky commitment to nonviolence

Article by Director of ICON, published in Satyagraha, the monthly newspaper dedicated to nonviolence.

On 25th February 1990, immediately after his release from prison, Nelson Mandela spoke at a huge rally in Durban. As he said, ‘…take your guns, your knives, and your pangas, and throw them into the sea’, we heard a rumble of discontent throughout the crowd. For years, people had been at the mercy of attacks, and the use of weapons was literally a life and death issue. In KwaZulu-Natal in particular, thousands of people had been killed by the apartheid state, and by vigilantes armed and incited against all those who were committed to a society of justice and equity.

There had been the growth of self-defence units, ready to protect people through the use of force, and also a commitment to making the country ungovernable, a strategy which had included the use of force against institutions of the state. It was no wonder that people saw in weaponry not just their own security, but also an expression of their commitment to the struggle for freedom, umshini wami.

Mandela took great risks in making such a firm and explicit commitment to nonviolence. The ANC’s position in the country was still uncertain; it faced real possibilities of armed attack from parts of the apartheid state, with its tentacles spreading far; groups such as the AWB threatened violence as did some black ‘liberation’ groups with links to the security forces. However, Mandela realised that to achieve the project of forming a nation built on an agreement between conflicting groups he needed to set a position of moral leadership that went beyond simply asserting one’s own side. And despite continued attacks, gradually the political violence of the province was tamed and he had won.

Mandela’s commitment to nonracialism was encapsulated in the image of the Rainbow Nation, a society in which diversity would be accepted as a source of strength.

For this commitment to have credibility, it required the sense of a common sense of unity across groups divided historically, and violently, on racial grounds.

This unity found its most complete expression in the triumph of the 1996 Rugby World Cup, when his generosity of spirit transformed a game associated with white supremacy into a symbol of nation building.

There is a sense though that at some point the positive movement to a just society stalled. While the nation is not at war, since 1990 we have witnessed an increase in social inequality; gated ‘communities’ sprawl across the suburbs while people in informal settlements struggle to get services and have been subject to new forms of political violence. Some forms of violence seem particularly to expose the limitations of the project of nation-building, such as the xenophobic attacks on African foreigners, the ‘corrective rape’ of lesbians, and the environmental damage and rapacious mistreatment of the workers of Grootvlei Mine by Aurora Empowerment Systems. A nonviolence that applies only to some relations in society does not go nearly far enough.

Mandela served his country well. Those inspired by his commitment need to take risks as bold as his in 1990, but with a vision that goes beyond nation-building and that asks difficult questions about what relationships still remain from our violent past. When we speak of ‘nonviolence’ this is not simply a principle to apply in one’s personal life; it is a commitment to a just and equitable society, in which nonviolence is about both the process of achieving it and the nature of the society we aim for. This is the task of a renewed leadership of nonviolence.

ICON Celebrates Mandela Day

ICON joined Gandhi Development Trust and Satyagraha for their cleanup at the Beachwood Mangrove Swamps. The event was designed to promote a commitment to nonviolence amongst young people, and to draw attention to the environmental issues that confront us.

Crispin Hemson, Director of ICON, amongst the mangrove trees, demonstrates the possibilities for recycling.


Kit Evans, an activist for nonviolence from Berkeley, California, offers Ela Gandhi a drink after the work.


Some of the crowd of cleaners and refuse collected on the beach.