One of the most fascinating and relevant sessions during our fellowship at the Rotary Peace Centre at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok in 2011 was on Storytelling for Peacebuilding, facilitated by Dr. Kacie Wallace. For a long time, I longed for an opportunity to try out some of the skills.
This opportunity finally came last month, when I was fortunate enough to be invited to the 4th Annual UNISA Children’s Reading Conference September 11-12, 2012, and the storytelling part that ran up to September 14th. There were three of us international storytellers, myself from Zimbabwe, and two others from Norway and the Philippines, respectively.
Because of my familiarity with South African history, I chose for all my stories the common theme of peace-building. Thus my stories were about how as a human race we can live together in peace; how we can tolerate our differences, respect each other and how we can be at peace with our environment. In Pretoria we told our stories to a wonderful and most appreciative audience at Oost End Primary School. After that we traveled to the North West Province. There, we had an out-of-this-world-experience at the Royal Bafokeng Institute. Before we led our workshops there, we had visited a number of historical places, including Nelson Mandela’s old SOWETO home, the Regina Mundi Church, Hector Pieterson Memorial site and Museum, among others.
At the Royal Bafokeng Institute, we each got an opportunity to facilitate a 3 hour workshop on a topic of our choice, in addition to telling stories. Of course, this had been prearranged and my topic was how we can use stories to build peace. This was based on the premise that people make sense of reality, and construct reality, out of stories. Besides, if you look closely, most conflicts occur because people want only their stories to be listened to, and hardly want to listen to others or put themselves in their shoes.
Conflicts are also born out of the bad stories that we hear about us, about others, and about our future. From the workshop it became clear that while we could not change our stories, we needed to face the truth about them in order to understand who we are, because only then can we know our strengths and weaknesses and be able to listen to others with empathy.
We dwelt much on the River of Life and other practical activities that entrench tolerance, respect and human rights. I do not think that these activities in my group, which were attended by more than 50 adults from the Rustenburg Community, could have come at a better time because, as we went about them, a few kilometers away the Marikana miner strikes were occurring, where apparently more than 30 people had needlessly lost their lives in riots the previous week.
Nevertheless, I was filled with hope in the common story that the racially mixed student body at the Royal Bafokeng was trying to weave together, and that their cheer and evident industry and harmony would spread and live in every nook and cranny of their beautiful Rainbow nation, that is, if nobody shatters their story.
Edward Chinhanhu wishes to thank Professor Thomas van der Walt and Professor Bosire Onyancha of UNISA, Ms Denise Kunstler of the Language and Literacy Team at the Royal Bafokeng Institute, and their teams for arranging all tours and activities.