Peace Education Project

Contact person: Vaughn M. John (PhD)


Background to the programme

The Peace Education Programme arose from the political violence which engulfed the province during the late 1980s and early 1990s. The main protagonists of this apartheid state-orchestrated conflict were the Inkatha movement (now the Inkatha Freedom Party) and the United Democratic Front (UDF). The UDF was aligned to the then banned African National Congress. This “Natal War” left 7500 people dead and considerable destruction and trauma (see Aitchison, Leeb and John, 2010; Greenstein, 2003). The Centre for Adult (CAE) at the then University of Natal hosted the Unrest Monitoring Project. Which monitored, recorded and reported on the conflict for a period of seven years. This research sought to provide an independent evidence-based account of the conflict as a challenge to the silencing and propaganda of the apartheid state during times of emergency law.

When the violence subsided, the need for peace education and research became a priority in the province. In 1998, the first peace education course was offered by CAE in partnership with colleagues at the university. This ten-day residential peace education course brought together groups of Inkatha and UDF/ANC supporters, along with police officers. Research had shown that the police were not a neutral force in the violence and thus needed to be included in peace-building. The workshop was called “Towards creating peaceful communities”, a good part of which dealt with understanding the underlying causes to conflict. We used this initiative to deepen understanding about conflict and about the strong links between the structural violence of the apartheid system and physical violence. Since this course and over a period close to two decades, a variety of peace education courses, peace interventions and peace research projects have been conducted. Two formal university modules, at undergraduate and masters levels, have also be developed and offered.

Current activities of the programme

Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP)

The Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) is the long-standing project of the programme.  AVP is a global peace education programme that is offered in community settings, prisons, and places of learning and work in approximately 60 countries, including 13 in Africa. AVP workshops employ participatory pedagogy, using games, activities, dialogue and critical reflection to foster deep experiential learning. The Peace Education Programme has hosted the local network of AVP facilitators and assisted the project over the last decade with administrative support and research. A masters student has conducted their research on AVP (see Shireen Barnabas (2014): Learning and development via network participation:  A case study of a peace educator network). Ethical clearance for a large-scale global study of AVP has been received. The objectives of this study are to understand AVP’s origins, growth and spread across the globe; to explore its planned, adapted and enacted curriculum, to investigate its diverse organisational structures and contexts; to explore the experiences of AVP facilitators and participants in different parts of the world; and to interrogate the philosophical and theoretical underpinnings to AVP as a global peace-building practice. A case study of AVP, where the unit of analysis is the entire global project, will allow for such a wide-ranging and multi-focus study.

School Peace Clubs

Peace clubs have been set up in some schools in Pietermaritzburg as a new peace intervention. This initiative funded by the Mennonite Central Committee follows the model of Peace Clubs in Zambia.  Peace clubs are being piloted in local schools as an opportunity for learners to become involved in building peace in their schools and communities. The Peace Education Programme currently supports the School Peace Clubs project with monitoring and evaluation support and other research. A masters student has conducted her research on a local Peace Club (see Lee-Ann Jasson (2017): Exploring a School-Based Peace Club: Learning and Experiences of Young Adults).

Exploring Xenophobia project

There have long been tensions between South Africans and immigrants from Africa. These tensions turned into deadly violence in 2008 and again in 2015, displacing many foreign nationals living in South Africa. Concerns about the 2015 attacks prompted some colleagues the University of KwaZulu-Natal, together with two NGO partners, to develop an action-research intervention which would:

  • Develop a better understanding of the complexity of the problem commonly described as xenophobia
  • Identify aspects or fields for a future database for monitoring such violence
  • Create a space for dialogue between local nationals and foreign nationals,
  • Provide psychosocial support to the people concerned
  • Conscientise people and communities towards a deeper understanding of the causes of violence
  • Ensure that decision makers (government, media, churches, NGOs) are sensitised to a deeper understanding of the conflict and develop better policies

During August and September 2016, six workshops where held with two communities which have local nationals and foreign nationals living together. The residential nature of the workshops allow for interaction, dialogue and deeper understanding of the complexities of the conflict and to identify interventions in response. A second phase of this project, involving research and the development of some interventions is being planned to start in 2017. This phase will involve a post-doctoral scholar, a doctoral candidate and a masters student.

Conference papers and publications emanating from the programme

Articles and book chapters

  • John, V.M. (2017) Understanding displaced and refugee groups in South Africa. Peace Review, 29 (1), 7-14. DOI: 10.1080/10402659.2017.1272278
  • John, V.M. (forthcoming) Peace Education: learning, healing and humanising. In P.R. Rule J. Preece (Eds), Adult Learning in Africa: Perspectives, Practices and Possibilities, Rotterdam: Sense Publishers.
  • John, V.M. (2017, forthcoming) The Alternatives to Violence Project in South Africa — harmonising theory and practice In V. Jain and M. Meyer (Eds) Satyagraha / Ujamaa: Connecting Contemporary African-Asian Peacemaking and Nonviolence. Cambridge Scholars Publishing.
  • John, V.M. (2017, forthcoming) The complexities and challenges of community development in post-conflict South Africa: a systems framework of a project. In R. Phillips, S. Kenny and B. McGrath (Eds), The Routledge Handbook of Community Development
  • John, V.M. (2017) Building peace, solidarity and hope in Africa through popular education. In von Kotze, A. and Walters, S (Eds.) Forging Solidarity: Popular Education at Work, pp. 59-70. Rotterdam: Sense Publishers.
  • John, V.M. (2016) Transformative learning challenges in a context of trauma and fear: an educator’s story. Australian Journal of Adult Learning, 56 (2), 268-289.
  • John, V.M. (2016) The dangers of educated girls and women. Education, Citizenship and Social Justice, 11(2), 184-196. DOI: 10.1177/1746197916648280
  • John, V.M. (2016) Peace Profile: The Alternatives to Violence Project. Peace Review, 28 (3), 369-375.
  • John, V.M. (2016) Using conflict mapping to foster peace-related learning and change in schools. Education as Change, 20 (2): 221-242.
  • John, V.M. (2015) Conference report: 25th General Conference of the International Peace Research Association (IPRA) 2014 — A report on the Peace Education Commission program. Journal of Peace Education, 12 (2): 204-205.
  • John, V.M. (2015) Working Locally, Connecting Globally: The Case of the Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP). Journal of Peacebuilding & Development. 10 (2), 81-86.  doi: 10.1080/17400201.2015.1049053.
  • John, V.M. (2013) Transforming power and transformative learning in peace educator development. Journal of Social Sciences, 37(1), 81-91.
  • John, V. (2011). Community development in a post-conflict context: fracture and depleted social capital.  Community Development Journal, 46, 51-65.
  • John, V. (2008).  Secrecy and Lies: Sources of strength for militarism and for critical peace pedagogy. In N. Muthukrishna (Ed.) (2008) Educating for Social Justice and Inclusion In an African Context: Pathways and Transitions. pp. 193-206. New York: Nova Publishers.
  • Houghton T. & John, V. (2007) Towards sustainable peace education: theoretical and methodological frameworks of a program in South Africa. In Z. Bekerman and C McGlynn (Eds) Addressing Ethnic Conflict through Peace Education:  International Perspectives, pp. 187-199, New York, Palgrave Macmillan.

Conference papers

  • 2017 John, V.M. Fostering non-violence, healing and humanization: experiences of the Alternative to Violence Project (AVP) in Africa. Keynote address to the Building Resilience to Genocide through Peace Education: Concepts, Methods, Tools and Impact colloquium, Kigali, Rwanda, 20-22nd February 2017.
  • 2017 Mabaso, B.P. and John, V.M. Exploring teachers’ understandings and experiences of sexual violence practices in schools. Paper presented at the annual AEDA 2017 Conference, Blue Waters Hotel, Durban, 3 – 5 April 2017.
  • 2017 John, V.M. Deepening understanding with displaced and refugee groups in South Africa. Paper presented at the 10th Annual Poverty and Social Protection Conference, Bangkok, Thailand, 9-11 March 2017.
  • 2016   John, V.M. Building peace, solidarity and hope in Africa through popular peace education. Paper presented at the Forging Solidarity: Southern Perspectives of Popular Education colloquium, Stellenbosch, South Africa, 9-10 June 2016.
  • 2016   John, V.M. Violence and vulnerability: when social protection gives way to sexual predation. Paper presented at the 9th Annual Poverty and Social Protection Conference, Bangkok, Thailand, 9-11 March 2016.
  • 2015   John, V.M. The local-global nexus of the Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP): four decades of a peace-building movement. Paper presented at the 1st African Peace Research and Education Association (AFPREA) conference, 13-15 April 2015, Abuja, Nigeria.
  • 2015   John, V.M. The dangers of educated girls and women.  Paper presented at the     10th Annual Education and Development Conference, 5-7 March 2015, Bangkok,         Thailand.
  • 2014   John, V.M. On unity, peace and values: the wisdom of Nelson Mandela. Paper     presented at the International Peace Research Association (IPRA) conference,           10-15 August 2014, Istanbul, Turkey. 
  • 2014   John, V.M. Using conflict maps in schools to generate critical reflection and dialogue. Paper presented at the International Peace Research Association (IPRA) conference,    10-15 August 2014, Istanbul, Turkey.