Western Kentucky University
Post-Apartheid Conflict Resolution: How A Once Estranged South Africa Used Communication In Uniting The Nation
As widespread and overwhelming as conflicts have seemed in this course, one wonders how they ever cease to exist. While extremely complicated on an interpersonal level, dealing with conflict on a national scale with numerous groups that have millions of individuals within them, proves a daunting task. Many African nations have experienced colonization with conflicts of interest between minority foreigners and majority indigenous people. Most of these nations sought their independence by diplomatic means, and where diplomacy failed, guerilla warfare entered. In terms of harmony, fighting for independence and winning did not automatically resolve the issues at hand; opposite parties that fought one another now had to integrate and live with each other. In some cases, however, African leaders immediately expelled all countrymen not of African decent citing that the lives of the indigenous people would improve without them (Idi Amin of Uganda once expelled almost all Asian citizens and seized their property, claiming the common man as the major beneficiary of this extremely drastic act). In a case like South Africa, where a mass exodus could not possibly happen based on the sheer numbers of European-Africans already living there, its leaders had to find a way to harmonically integrate the once racially separated populations.
As oppressive and brutal as the apartheid regime behaved, an obvious expectation from external observers would include a substantial amount of bloodshed, retribution, and vengeance. This did not happen, not even to a fraction of the scales people expected it to. According to Gibson (2006, p 410), “a crucial factor in the success of their transition was the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.” Desmond Tutu, an archbishop of the Anglican Church, led the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) with the full support of Nelson Mandela (Gibson, 2006). The entire process generated a great deal of information and truth, while talk of reconciliation filled public discourse since the inception of the commission (Gibson, 2006).
Considering the large ratio of black South Africans to white South Africans, and the negative views and emotions each had and felt toward each other, the leaders deserved praise for acting quickly to quell the potential chaos that could ensue had everyone dealt with their personal qualms in their own manner. Communication then played a pivotal role in facilitating the reconciliation process between people that once hated each other and now had to cohabitate. Although some South African commentators may not have demonstrated as much enthusiasm for the effects of the program, numerous observers throughout the world subscribe to the fact that the truth process did in fact contribute to reconciliation in South Africa, and that the reconciliation achieved has allowed the country to move forward and achieve its democratic goals (Gibson, 2006).
To understand the founding principles of the TRC that allowed it to manifest the way it did, one needs to understand the pre-colonial era traditions and norms of southern African people that shaped their conflict lens. According to Oetzel and Ting-Toomey’s research (2006), the Nguni people of southern Africa applied traditional norms and customs primarily to prevent conflict. They strived to exist in harmony while adhering respectfully to the confines of traditional norms and values. Naturally conflict arose, and depending on the severity of a dispute, it was dealt with either on a family level, the community level, or the level of royal intervention (Oetzel and Ting-Toomey, 2006). When disputing parties failed to reach a peaceful agreement, these individuals would then...