by Sharon Verwoerd
I first learned about nonviolence at a From Violence to Wholeness workshop led by Brendan McKeague in a small country town in Queensland, Australia. I was in my second year of teaching and it completely changed the way I perceived my work – and my awareness of my use of power over others. I joined the Australian Pace e Bene network and was inspired by the formation, mentorship and open friendship offered. After a few years, and some personal experiences which challenged my commitment to nonviolence, I came to a deeper understanding of the journey and wanted to explore more. I went back to university and studied peacebuilding and conflict resolution with the view to work in the field. This led me to work in Ireland (north and south) and now to South Africa, where my husband and I are putting down our roots and exploring what we might contribute to here.
Disturbed by the violence in and around me, I began to ask people about nonviolence groups in South Africa and whether there might be interest in a workshop. This and other conversations confirmed the need for deep cultural transformation in a place where communities are constantly challenged by the legacies of our past and ongoing inequality, disconnection and violence.
So on Saturday, March 1st, eleven of us gathered at Christian Brothers’ Centre, Stellenbosch for an introductory workshop on nonviolence, based on Pace e Bene’s Engage program. We began with a moving time of reflection and sharing our experiences of violence and nonviolence. We explored this from another angle by expressing our feelings in reaction to violence with our bodies and then trying out the ‘two hands of nonviolence’:
“On the one hand (symbolized by a hand firmly stretched out and signaling, “Stop!”) I will not cooperate with your violence or injustice; I will resist it with every fibre of my being. And, on the other hand (symbolized by the hand with its palm turned open and stretched toward the other) I am open to you as a human being.” (Engage workbook, p57. Available at http://paceebene.org/power-nonviolent-change/two-hands-nonviolence).
We shared a delicious and unhurried lunch, hearing more about each other’s work and making some interesting connections between groups that were represented: the Christian Brothers, the Centre for Christian Spirituality, Youth with a Mission, the Anabaptist Network in South Africa and a women’s faith group.
In the afternoon, we spent a while exploring our ideas about what nonviolence is and then tried it out in pairs following the CARA model:
Articulate our truth;
Receive the truth of the other person/s;
(See the Pace e Bene website for a full description of this activity: http://paceebene.org/nonviolent-change-101/tools-nonviolent-living/nonvi…)
We closed the day with an affirmation of hope and gratitude for those who have inspired us, and then shared the blessings of the day with others through some Tai Chi. The connections made were wonderful and we hope to support each other in ongoing ways.
May this be a small step on the way of our own transformation and that of our communities and society in South Africa.