Reconciliation in Ireland

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13 November 2002

During the course of last week, the Sustainability Institute hosted a group of fifteen people from Ireland for three days. This group was brought out to South Africa by the Glencree Centre for Reconciliation based outside Dublin. The mission of the Glencree Centre is to facilitate reconciliation work in Northern Ireland and in the Republic. The Centre brings together victims of violence perpetrated by both sides, as well as ex-combatants from both sides in the conflict. The connection between this work and South Africa has been facilitated by Wilhelm Verwoerd who is currently based in Dublin where his wife, Melanie Verwoerd is the South African Ambassador to Ireland. Wilhelm has worked for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and it was this work that has equipped him to contribute to the programmes run by the Glencree Centre for Reconciliation.

The group visited Robben Island, went on a Wilderness Leadership Trail in Kwazulu-Natal, and then ended their trip with a three day workshop at the Sustainability Institute facilitated by Eve Annecke. The focus of this workshop was on the leadership challenges facing this group as it heads back into a divided society that faces a deepening of conflict in the near future. Based on facilitated group discussion, plus discussion of a video called A Force More Powerful about the story of how Mkhuseli Jack used non-violent action in Port Elizabeth during the 1980s to achieve changes with a national impact, it was possible for the Irish group to reflect on their situation in light of the South African experience.

It is important for South Africans to be reminded that there are people from other conflicts that have suffered terribly, and who are still searching for ways of transcending endemic violence. When one of the participants was just 11 years old, he and his family were evicted from their house by the British Police and his father was shot in the head. He himself was shot when he was only 17. Like many South Africans he carried with him the scars of violence, and a fear of what it can do when it gets out of control. This is a threat that still faces South Africa. But we have the benefit of having made peace at a certain moment in time. The great priviledge of reflecting on how we did this with a group from Ireland helps to reconfirm our commitment to protecting and winning the peace in future.

It was agreed that there would be ongoing linkages between the Sustainability Institute and the Glencree Centre for Reconciliation with respect to future programmes of work in both Ireland and South Africa.

Mark Swilling