Bearing witness to build a just peace

Since 2016, More Than Peace has learnt that bearing witness is essential to the work of building a just and sustainable peace in South Africa.

We train and deploy observers across local communities to public meetings, protests, and multi-stakeholder engagements, where intergenerational causes and consequences of systemic injustice and unequal access to resources, power, and basic services are being voiced and accountability sought by citizens.

The presence of impartial observers supports the interactions and dynamics between those present – citizens, politicians, government officials, state security, private security and public and private sector role-players. It increases accountability amongst the stakeholders and helps diffuse tensions and reduce conflict dynamics.

In cases where conflict and possible violence arise, observers may help the role players de-escalate the conflict using essential mediation skills, contacting trusted third parties such as local community and faith leaders, officials from institutions such as the South African Human Rights Commission, and experienced conflict practitioners to provide a dialogical intervention, and liasing with municipal officials, senior SAPS officers and others in oversight.

Training and deploying Election Observers in SA and across Africa

Since 2016, MTP has also been training and deploying election observers to monitor and report on electoral integrity, to strengthen civil society’s capacity to promote citizen participation, to support voter education, to engage in advocacy and foster governmental accountability within and throughout the election cycle.

In 2019, MTP was accredited by the IEC for the National and Provincial Elections in 2019 and trained and deployed more than 100 observers in the Western Cape. To read more click here.

Between 2018 – 2021, MTP trained more than 300 faith leaders in Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Burundi, Ivory Coast and Chad in Electoral monitoring towards deepening democracy, reducing conflict dynamics and building peace in partnership with Tearfund. Over the next 3 years, we will continue to develop our training online and in country across the continent.

Bearing witness during COVID-19

In the wake of President Ramaphosa’s announcement declaring a State of Disaster, MTP was invited by the South African Human Rights Commission to assist in establishing a Section 11 Monitoring Committee in accordance with their Act to monitor the protection and promotion of human rights across the country and report any violations to the SAHRC for investigation.

‘Since I was nominated by the Parliament of the Republic of South Africa and subsequently appointed by the President, I cannot describe in words the assistance that the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) has received from More Than Peace (MTP). The list of engagements is too long however it includes monitoring in very serious environments —situations of unrest, evictions, protests etc...

One of the most valuable contribution is that of mediation in very volatile situations across the Western Cape. During COVID-19 MTP has played a critical role in assisting the SAHRC in recruiting organisations from civil society, more than 220 comprising of more than 500 monitors across the country from all walks of life.

MTP assisted with the administration and prepared and delivered their online training. Throughout the lock-down, MTP coordinated the deployment and reporting of the monitors via Provincial WhatsApp groups and their interactions with the SAHRC Provincial Managers and myself. Funding for the training, coordination and administration was secured by members of the MTP coalition via a Nordic Peace-building Foundation. These monitors continue to play a vital role in monitoring human rights during the Lock Down period.’

– Commissioner Rev Chris Nissen, SAHRC

Concerns were soon realised within days of the lockdown, as SAPS, Law Enforcement and SANDF members were recorded forcing people living in working class and poorer communities into humiliating positions, kicking, slapping, whipping and shooting citizens with rubber bullets and live ammunition for alleged contraventions of the Disaster Management Act regulations.

Photo: A South African police officer forcing people to disperse and observe the safety distance as they queue outside a supermarket in Yeoville, Johannesburg, on March 28, 2020.PHOTO: AFP

South Africa is the most economically unequal country in the world with urban areas starkly divided along racial lines. COVID-19 lock down measures exposed these inequalities and disproportionately affected those whose lives bear witness to South Africa’s intergenerational socio-economic and spatial inequalities and injustices.

The regulations were untenable for those living in overcrowded housing in densely populated areas, without adequate access to water, toilets, and sanitation. Households reliant on local businesses for daily purchases of food and electricity supplies were forced to risk traveling on public transport and stand for hours in un-managed queues outside supermarkets. The collection of SASSA grants created COVID-19 hotspots as hundreds of citizens queued for days without any queue management system. SAPS fired water cannons at elderly and disabled people as a measure to enforce social distancing.

The President urged security personnel to be a ‘force of kindness’ but with the exception of some individual officers, the dominant and prevailing culture of aggression, brutality and violence of state security institutions was exposed.

Photo: Hundreds of Sassa beneficiaries queue for grants in the midst of the COVID-19 second wave. Image: Sandile Ndlovu.

Leadership as demonstrated by Captain Stephanus during a peace march in Hangberg on 21st June 2020, in which more than 400 residents protested the City of Cape Town’s forced removal and demolition of Ginola Philips house on 12th and 19th June 2020.

SAHRC monitors observed Captain Stephanus and members working with the community leaders to plan and uphold an agreed route, demonstrating patience, empathy and negotiation skills to diffuse and resolve tensions and anger when the Ward Councillor and City officials did not attend to receive a Memorandum of Demands.

Photo: Hangberg community leaders presenting a Memorandum of Demands to Rev Annie Kirke on behalf of the SAHRC to deliver to the City of Cape Town.

Civil society monitoring throughout the lock-down has played a crucial role in reporting and seeking investigations concerning arrests and detentions of minors in police holding cells, sjamboking of persons arrested for attending protests and gatherings during the lockdown, refusal of SAPS to interview victims of rape and domestic violence, recording and witnessing illegal demolitions and evictions, and the forced removal, detainment and abusive treatment of homeless people.

Following the opening of Strandfontein Homeless Camp where 1,600 people were removed from Cape Town’s streets by the City, MTP led an independent team of health, social care, disaster response and human rights experts, including Doctors Without Borders, to conduct an assessment of the camp for submission to the SAHRC.

The 57-page report called for immediate improvements and a phased closure of the camp to be replaced by smaller, specialised sites dedicated to supporting groups with chronic health conditions, substance dependency, those with mental health issues, the frail and elderly and a reintegration plan post lock-down.

Sadly, the City chose to close the camp and transport the majority of people back to the street, however some churches, like St Peter’s Mowbray (@stpetersmowbray) in partnership with New Hope SA (@streetandshelter) acted quickly to help establish micro sites to assist those returning which are developing into longer-term housing solutions.

In the midst of the horrors of Strandfontein, a beautiful expression of dignity and hope emerged – The Homeless Action Committee – elected from amongst more than 300 people staying in The Haven Tent 2. MTP had the privilege of seeing this committee emerge, define, articulate and advocate for their own needs, rights and future. We also had the privilege of presenting with Carlos Mesquita, HAC member, at the Inkathalo Conversations in October 2020 – a public participation process to give recommendations towards the Street People Policy and Strategy for The City of Cape Town. Carlos now writes a weekly Cape Argus column originally authored by Danny Oosthuizen.

We were strangers a year ago, today, I call Annie Kirke my most trusted friend. Imagine, today, we can stand side by side, both as Human Rights monitors for human rights violations being conducted against other vulnerable people…’ Carlos Mesquita (HAC member / Rehoming Collective) describes his own experiences of Strandfontein here and the contribution that MTP made.


“No one person, organization, or political party holds a monopoly on what will make a healthy future for us all — either at the planetary or community level. Perhaps nothing is more important today than crossing the boundaries that seem to separate us and learn to think like an interconnected system.”

Crossing boundaries is an essential step in seeking to listen, understand, participate, advocate, and hold one another accountable and responsible for the health of the future we are building.

MTP would like to invite you to participate in this work personally, collectively and financially.

Come train with us!

In partnership with the Albert Luthuli Foundation, part of the NFDI – National Foundations Dialogues Initiative – MTP is developing a National Electoral Observer Network – to monitor during the pre-election period, on Election Day and the post-election period.

  1. Sign up for Election Observer training
  2. Become an Accredited Observer
  3. Monitor in your local community or across an area
  4. Report in real-time to a rapid response task team
  5. Recruit others from your local and social networks – faith, CAN, LEAN, street, school, university, work…

Build a just peace!

South Africa spends more than ZAR 48 billion per annum on Private Security. Imagine what we could achieve if we financially invested in building a just peace together.

SOW PEACE – Give 1% of your income on a weekly, monthly or annual basis to support the training and deployment of election observers

WATER PEACE– Give 10% of your monthly or annual private security cost to training local communities in monitoring, conflict intervention and stakeholder dialogue skills.

FEED PEACE – Give a one-off donation towards expert mediation intervention and stakeholder dialogue facilitation.

All SA donations are tax deductible. This means that donations you make can be claimed as a qualifying deduction on your 2020/21 Income Tax return.
Individuals and businesses still have time to contribute before the end of the tax year (Saturday, 29th February 2021) and qualify for this deduction.
More Than Peace (MTP) is a registered Public Benefit Organisation with Section 18(A) status (Reg No. 930063576).

Did you know?
1. You’re able to reduce your tax liability by donating up to 10% of your annual taxable income.
2. Any amount donated over 10% of your taxable income will be carried over to the next year of assessment and thus will not be lost.
3. MTP issues Section 18(A) tax certificates annually in April.

Ordinary South Africans commitment to democracy ensures a positive election experience

The overwhelming feedback from the More than Peace Election Observer Teams was that the positive and united spirit showed by ordinary South Africans, and even the representatives of political parties, was a joy to witness. The rain and cold could not quench their desire to positively contribute, within the boundaries of the law, to the success of these elections 25 years into democracy.  

More Than Peace, a coalition of faith-based organisations working for peace and justice, was accredited by the IEC to deploy Election Observers for the #SAElections2019. We trained more than 130 observers with nearly 100 deployed on Election Day across communities in the Western Cape.

Although our experience of the elections was broadly positive, with most Polling Stations operating well and according to plan, there were a few issues we observed in multiple locations around the Western Cape.

The primary issue was caused by the numbers of voters who opted for the Section 24A provision permitting them to vote in an alternative polling station to which they were registered within the same Province.

This created significant delays and queues early on in the day which were compounded by the depletion of ballot papers and VEC 4 forms across a significant number of Polling Stations as the day progressed. The administration of the VEC 4 forms added stress to the Presiding officers and staff. We observed their exhaustion as the day wore on and particularly during the counting process later in the day.

The option of voting anywhere in the Province also revealed a systemic vulnerability in the prevention of voter fraud. If the indelible ink could be removed from a voters thumb after voting, during the Special Voting Days or Election Day, then it would be theoretically possible for voters to cast additional votes at different Polling Stations. 

The only way an Election Observer could verify this voter fraud is if they were to recognise a voter at multiple Polling Stations during the process. This observation was unlikely to happen and so we can’t make a conclusive finding on whether multiple voting did occur. The systemic vulnerability should be fixed for future elections.  

We also observed weaknesses in the leadership of a number of Presiding Officers, and some supporting staff. In a few cases their lack of knowledge, understanding, ability and/or confidence saw the voting process compromised. Some of these PO’s, mainly those with less experience, relied too heavily on the knowledge or input of observers or party agents to complete their work. This was not an issue that substantively affected the outcome of the election, but an area for improvement for the next election.

More Than Peace observed and reported from more than 130 Polling Stations in Khayelitsha, Siqalo, Mitchells Plain, Vrygrond, Delft, Imizamo Yethu, Hangberg, Masiphumele, Parkwood, Lwandle, Hermanus, Gugulethu, Langa, Lavender Hill, Bonteheuwel, Mfuleni, Claremont, Maitland, Ottery and the CBD amongst others.

We were trained to observe the entire process at polling stations – the behaviour of voters, political parties, political agents, and polling station officials – from the electronic scan of IDs at the door through to the casting of the votes, and thereafter the counting.

Election Observers were able to escalate issues observed during the election to their Observer Coordinator who then directed issues to the IEC immediately for resolution in real time. We believe that our observations and reporting helped strengthen and improve the election process and will give voters confidence that the process was transparent, free & fair.

We believe that the observers have been outstanding – showing great dedication volunteering their time.  They included representatives from churches, other faith communities, NPOs, businesses, universities and community forums across the areas that we observed in. They began arriving at polling stations from 6am and worked in shifts throughout the day, and late into the night, as voting proceeded to counting. Some only went off-duty after sunrise the day after the election!

We will be compiling a detailed official summary of our observations and submitting it to the IEC by Saturday 11th May.

Thank you to all of you who have supported and prayed for us and this Election. We call on all South African citizens to consider volunteering as observers for future elections.

Ends.

 

Media Enquiries

Rev Annie Kirke – 0607187636

annie@morethanpeace.org

More Than Peace Coalition Catalyst