News — Peacemakers Conflict Management

By: Peacemakers  11-11-2011
Keywords: employment, Human Rights, Conflict Management

Today’s post has a very personal, and special significance to me.

Yes, this has certain economic implications for South African Chinese as a whole.
However, more importantly, I see this is a restitution of a portion of our dignity as a fully contributing segment of South African society.

You see, its not about wanting to be a part of the “BEE Bandwagon”.

Its not about wanting a share of fat government contracts.

Its about wanting the acknowledgment that our basic human rights were infringed upon. Its about getting more South Africans to understand that we too were treated as second class

During the height of Apartheid, we were denied the right to use certain facilities based on our race.

We could not own property.

We were even denied the vote, but were expected to pay taxes.

This ruling will go a long way to dispelling the speculation of the uninformed surrounding our identities as fully fledged South African citizens. It goes without saying that this ruling will provide a standard of fairness based on legal precedent with which HR managers and similar recruitment and personnel specialists can make regarding employment contracts.

Here at Peacemakers, we pride ourselves on our approach to Conflict Management which involves getting our clients to acknowledge and work towards fulfilling their Basic Human Needs.

Today, I (and many others like me) woke up today with a significant portion of our Basic Human Needs fulfilled.

As a member of a minority (I’m a South African of Chinese descent), my ears naturally tend to prick up when the term Xenophobia gets bandied about.

Rioters on the move in Alexandra Township

Reports from local newspapers claim 16 000 people have been displaced. I don’t know about you, but in my book, that qualifies as a state of emergency.

Its time to pull out one of my favorite conflict analysis tools. I find this tool particularly useful, and its usually the first analytical process that I teach in my workshops. And today I’m going to show you how to apply it to a topical issue.

Johan Galtung’s Conflict Triangle

I like this tool because it allows anyone to rapidly deconstruct a conflict and arrange incoming data in a more meaningful way.

The three points of the triangle represent 3 factors which need to be considered when analyzing a conflict, namely:

1) Attitudes;
2) Behaviors;
3) Context.

Note the horizontal line bisecting the triangle. When analyzing a conflict it is important to separate behaviors from attitudes and the context. Together, the attitudes and context form a latent sublayer of wants and needs.

It is interesting to note that the BEHAVIORS observed are not the actual CAUSES of the conflict. Just as a sore throat; loss of balance and nausea are “symptoms” of a more serious middle ear infection, so are those behaviors are “symptoms” of a far deeper, more wide ranging set of un/mis-addressed issues.

So let start by thinking about the observed behaviors witnessed over the past few days:
i) Acts of extreme violence (rape; murder; assault and looting);
ii) An increase in police presence (an now a military presence);
iii) An escalation in the incidence of violence;
iv) Displacement of refugees/foreign nationals/certain minority groups.

Let us now delve deeper, into the underlying latent subtext, namely attitudes and context.

Attitudes held by rioters:
i) Foreigners are the cause of crime;
ii) Foreigners are taking jobs meant for South Africans;

Factors making up the context of the conflict situation:
i) Rising oil and food prices;
ii) High levels of unemployment in South Africa;
iii) Rising levels of crime and violence;
iv) Lack of service delivery (i.e. poor sanitation; non-functioning services).

Human beings are hardwired to look for patterns; correlations and relationships especially in situations which are beyond their understanding. Thus human beings will look for convenient “scapegoats” on which to vent their rage. In this case the scapegoats are foreign minorities.

What this says to me as a conflict management expert, is that there are still many unresolved issues still lingering from the Apartheid era. Issues of deep rooted social conflict brought about (partly) by the inability of our present government to meet those needs. It is important to realize that the current wave of violence is SOCIAL in nature, and not POLITICAL.

Government lacks the capacity to deal effectively with these issues.

Note that I said “Lacking in Capacity” and not “Lacking in Money”. Also note that I said that they are unable to deal with these issues effectively. I did NOT say that they are lazy or lacking in funds.

Despite our shortcomings as a nation, most echelons of Government are trying hard to be effective within their respective portfolios. And they are given huge budgets with which to initiate projects to improve the status quo. Its simply a lack of capacity which leads poor execution; and ultimately to the poor effectiveness of the most well-intentioned of projects.

On a final note: A recent study by Synovate revealed that 1 in 5 South Africans plan to emigrate or are seriously considering it. The study stated that the option to emigrate was most popular around the 18-44 year mark. Quite dangerous as this represents your most economically active strata of the population.

A common underlying thread linking these xenophobic attacks and wave of emigration could be a loss of identity. As a second generation South African Chinese person, I find it difficult (if not outright impossible) to relate to the man on top (Our president). But the same could be said of countless other South Africans of any skin color.

Xenophobic attacks can also be viewed as satisfying a desperate need for renewing or re-establishing a group identity. The old “us” versus “them” mindset. There is a definite element of anonymity with regards to group violence. In most cases those who participate in mob violence do so with the certain knowledge that they are in essence invulnerable and will not be held accountable for their actions.

On a deep level, this represents a desperate need to gain control over factors which have left many feeling powerless.

Nevertheless while such behaviors can be observed, analyzed and interpreted, in no way can any rational and sane human being condone the brutality visited upon innocent people seeking a better life.

If you’ve checked into our site recently you’ll probably have noticed a number of changes.

We are in the final cycle of our re-branding and will be bringing you an exciting new look very soon!

Issues of Land Rights; Tenure and Restitution remain a sensitive one in Southern Africa. Fears persist that South Africa will soon face a similar “Land Grab” as seen in the ill fated Zimbabwe.

Peacemakers will be one of a number of consultancies providing technical assistance; as well as on-the-ground mediation services and support to this exciting initiative. The focus of activities will concentrate solely on issues of Land Tenure.

Acas, Britain’s leading employment relations service, has published a new booklet – Managing conflict at work. The booklet is designed to help employers and employees better understand and manage conflict at work. It is a practical guide that covers the signs, causes, management and prevention of conflict as well as sources of help such as mediation or arbitration.

According to a recent report, the average cost associated with employment tribunal claims comes to almost £20,000 per employing organisation each year. Employers spend an average of 15 days management time dealing with a claim. Many of these claims can start with situations such as employee problems not taken seriously, badly handled discipline interviews or misunderstandings between people – issues which if not dealt with, can become tribunal claims.

Acas Chair Rita Donaghy said “Conflict is a fact of life, but the effect it has on your organisation depends on how you manage it. When managers are not given the necessary skills to resolve issues, it can often seem easier to avoid the situation and hope it will go away, but that is how problems escalate. The benefits of being proactive about conflict management can be significant. The recent CIPD Survey shows that those organisations which provide training in mediation skills typically receive fewer employment tribunal claims than those that do not. So there are real benefits in ensuring employees have the necessary skills to effectively manage conflict.”

2. Acas’ aim is to improve organisations and working life through better employment relations. It provides information, advice, training and a range of services working with employers and employees to prevent or resolve problems and improve performance. It is an independent statutory body governed by a Council consisting of the Acas Chair and employer, trade union and independent members.

The information in this article was current at 08 Nov 2011

Keywords: Analytical Process, Conflict Analysis, Conflict Management, employment, Hr Managers, Human Rights, local newspapers, Personnel Specialists,

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