140 school leavers at the annual Masakhane Leadership Course at Edgewood, University of KwaZulu-Natal, attended an ICON session on nonviolence and leadership. After development of guidelines on how to handle the discussion, one student volunteered his account of witnessing extreme violence against a thief. Students began to talk about how they had felt it was inevitable that violence would be used as the way to resolve a problem; Crispin Hemson pointed out how our long history of violence has made it seem natural.
The central activity in the session was a small group discussion of the experience of violence. Among the comments afterwards were these:
‘This eases the burden – we have had bad experiences, a huge rock comes up and squashes you to the ground, and this helps to lift it off.’
‘I am not the only one who has experienced the violence…’
‘You get a chance to get an understanding of that person, when you hear that story.’
‘It made me realise the loss of humanity of people.’
‘Everyone has his or her own story to tell to the world’.
‘Before you focus on tomorrow you must think about what happened yesterday.’
‘This is a trust-building exercise.’
Many of the comments related to the links between the past, the present and the future.
When he responded, the ICON Director stressed the need to understand history and how the high levels of violence we experience had developed. History also provides us with the record of people who challenged the way things were, and we need to read what such people had said and consider how it relates to the present – the work of Steve Biko was treated as an example.
Those committed to nonviolence need to notice how violence becomes normalised against certain groups, for example African foreigners, gays and lesbians – and resolve to stop the constant cycle of violence.