Tshwane Peace Network
Lasy night we had a meeting of the Tshwane Peace Group. It was the second actual meeting of the group, and we gathered for a meal and to meet Andrew and Karen Suderman, Canadian Mennonites who are travelling round the country to form the Anabaptist Network of South Africa.
Perhaps “group” is too solid a word to describe something as amorphous as the Tshwane Peace Group. We gathered a few months ago to meet a young conscientious objector from Israel, and many of those who met had been conscientious objectors in South Africa in the 1980s. It was also the 25th anniversary of the End Conscription Campaign (ECC). And some told their stories of those times as well. At the end of the evening we thought we should keep in touch, and started an e-mail mailing list for that purpose, and we thought we should possibly meet again some time.
Some members took part in a vigil against climate change, and last night was our second actual meeting.
Andrew and Karen Suderman are living in Pietermaritzburg, and they told something of the activities of the Mennonites in South Africa. The Mennonites are Anabaptists, meaning that they believe that only adults should be baptised, and are also traditionally a “peace” church, like the Quakers, believing that the Christian faith requires non-violence. There have been Mennonites from North America engaged in ministry in South Africa before, but their aim was not to plant Mennonite churches, but rather to help other denominations. One of their main ministries in the last 30 years or so has been to provide Bible teaching and theological education to ministers in African Independent Churches (AICs), mainly Zionists. The Zionists, in particular, wanted theological education, but did not trust other denominations, which they suspected of wanting to try to take them over. They came to trust the Mennonites because they knew that the Mennonites were not planting Mennonite churches in southern Africa, and so were working from altruistic motives.
The Sudermans were interested in knowing something about our group, which forced us to think a bit about what we were. We are unstructured, informal, and opportunistic. We are mostly Christian, with a couple of agnostics. There are people from the traditional peace churches — Quakers and Mennonites, and also Baptists, Roman Catholics, Dutch Reformed and Orthodox. We are opportunistic in the sense of grasping opportunities for action, like the climate change vigil. We are involved in different things, and learn something more about about each others interests and activities each time we meet. Some are involved in trying to improve relationships between farm owners and farm workers in the North-West Province, where the murder of Eugene Terre’blanche a couple of weeks ago highlighted the need for that, and also what a huge task it is. Others are involved in various peace education and conflict resolution projects.
Andrew Suderman pointed out something important, I think. There is violence in South Africa, as there is in other places, but we managed to make a transition to democracy without an all-out war. That is a heritage worth developing and building on.
So I think about what this Tshwane Peace Group means to me — I can’t really speak for the others. Some of the others, like Cori Wielenga and Cobus van Wyngaard have their own blogs, and perhaps they will write about it there. I have found that electronic communications help one to keep in touch with people with similar interests all over the world. I can look at the web page of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship. I can read the blogs of people like Jim and Nancy Forest. But it is harder to find anything local. It’s marvellous to be able to sit at my desk and communicate with like-minded people all over the world. But, as Andrew Suderman pointed out last night, it’s not qute as radical as having a meal together. Ideally, electronic communication should be a supplement to face-to-face relationships, not a substitute for them. So I find it good to meet people who live in the same city (and Tshwane is a megacity), and can actually meet face-to-face. We may be involved in different things, but it can helpful to be aware of what others are doing, and to be aware of what resources are available. For example, a couple of years ago there was a lot of violence against foreigners. One could read about what was happening in other cities (for example Durban Action Against Xenophobia) but nothing local. It is good to have a group of people who know one another, perhaps more a network than a group, who can share information about resources when the need arises.
So we will keep in touch through our e-mail mailing list, but I hope we will also continue to get together when the opportunity arises.