‘Building Bridges across Divides’
Phaphama Initiatives is a South African non-governmental organisation (NGO) that has been involved in peace-building work since 1990. Over this time, tens of thousands of people in Southern Africa and abroad have participated in the organisations training programmes and experienced a safe space in which to learn new life skills.
Although these skills cover a range of disciplines they all serve the same purpose - to achieve understanding and reconciliation where previously there was division, disharmony or conflict.
Phaphama’s core work is the Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP), an international peace education programme working in schools, prisons and communities. One of the organisations most experienced facilitators, Thuli Ndlovu, tells her story:
“When I joined AVP I had issues and emotional conflict within myself and was facing the challenge of how to resolve them. I grew up in KwaZulu-Natal and when I entered primary school that was where I had my first taste of violence. The older kids at school used to bully me and took my pocket money and when I reported this at home my mother would beat me and say that I must learn to stand up for myself. I ended up beating other kids and resolving conflicts with my fists. Whenever there was violence directed at me I retaliated with violence. So when I attended AVP for the first time in 2002 I came to the realisation, with the help from other participants and facilitators that even before trying to solve your problems you need to identify the root cause of it. It was a challenge that I needed to face and overcome without pressure from anyone and at my own pace.
The second challenge was very hard for me even to talk about to other people. I was full of hate, anger and bitterness. At the age of 14 I joined one of the political parties and my school was mostly influenced by that party. As the youth we were not taught that other youths from other parties are not enemies because we were all fighting for the same thing: freedom in our country. So when I came to Gauteng in the 90’s it was a different thing from what I experienced back at home. Now we were fighting with so much anger, hate and death wished onto other people. It was a shocking change for me. I was there in City Library Gardens where people were killed by anonymous gunmen and I was unharmed but it fuelled my anger and hate towards other people who were in opposite parties to mine. When I saw someone wearing a political t-shirt or saying something about other political parties I would see a red flag. I have bottled up a lot of emotion in my heart and when the media reported that someone has been shot or burned from opposite parties I was smiling and saying that is my revenge, not thinking that behind that t-shirt there is a human being, a sister, a brother, a father, a mother who are being loved by their families.
The real test for me was when I attended an AVP Advanced workshop because that was the time to deal with my challenges like why am I bitter, where does it come from and who do I blame or I direct my hate to. Am I on a path to self destruction? That was the time that I realised that pointing fingers at each other is just a waste of precious time. With the space which was created in that workshop of being safe and comfortable it was easy for me to point to the root causes of my anger, violence and hate and which way to take to healing, step by step.”
Other branches of Phaphama’s work include team coaching, training in diversity appreciation, mediation and gender reconciliation work. While the organisation continues to do this work in prisons, schools and communities, it also offers it to companies and other development organisations.
Although Phaphama Initiatives sometimes receives programme funding, the organisation has never been a funded NGO. Phaphama has, therefore, learnt to be self-sufficient through offering fee-paying services:
- Community-based tourism, including tours, home-stays and volunteer work in Soweto or rural KwaZulu-Natal;
- African language learning (in any of South Africa’s nine African languages);
- A translation service from English to African languages or vice versa.
These activities are for the organisation, however they are more than just income-generating - they provide a way for Phaphama Initiatives to build peace by creating inspiring opportunities for indigenous communities in Africa to share their lives with people from different cultures, in ways that generate employment, uphold personal and cultural dignity, and are mutually enriching. When Phaphama gets feedback from its visitors like the one below, the organisation knows that it is succeeding in doing this.
“I appreciate to have had the opportunity to get to know your culture on such an open, honest and respectful basis. I am very impressed by the ability of your community to recover (emotionally and economically) from the horror of the Apartheid system. It seems to me that your people suffered the same cruelties as the Indians and Aboriginals did. But, although I am not an historian, it seems to me that your people were able to save a lot more of your traditions and identity than other cultures that the white man has tried to eliminate. I am proud to see that you have come a long way and that your people are building a society that embodies the values of your Freedom Charter.”
The vision of Phaphama Initiatives is a society where peace does not simply mean the absence of violence, but rather the presence of dignity, integrity, self-actualisation, embracing of our interconnectedness and on-going personal and community development to eradicate poverty and to improve people’s quality of life. For the last 23 years the organisation has worked towards this vision in South Africa and in many other countries on the African continent. Phaphama has also established a sister organisation in the Netherlands, Diversity Joy, that works on issues of diversity and social change.
To view the Phaphama in the Prodder NGO Directory, click here.