ACTIVATE! and Gun Free South Africa hosted a series of peace and non-violence workshops across the country. These workshops came at such a poignant moment as the nation was reeling from the tragic shooting of Bafana Bafana and Orlando Pirates goalkeeper, Senzo Meyiwa and co-incided with Fifa’s call for gun owners to surrender their weapons.
The workshops were held to commemorate the anniversary of the death of James Thomas, one of the founders of ACTIVATE! who was shot dead in the al-Shabab attacks at the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya, last year, and to support the annual United Nations International Day of Peace.
“We, as South Africans, seem incredibly desensitised to violence, and the aim of these workshops is to open up debate in local communities about the potential of living in a gun-free and non-violent country and world,” said Landy Wright, Programme Director at ACTIVATE!.
A total of five workshops were held in Cape Town, Johannesburg, Durban, Bloemfontein and Tshwane between November and December, each hosted and attended by Activators and facilitated by Gun Free South Africa.
Adele Kirsten, Project Coordinator at Gun Free South Africa explained that the workshops drew on elements of a Train-the-Trainer course in order to equip Activators with the skills to facilitate similar dialogues in their communities afterwards.
The session started by looking at statistics around gun violence and how these figures are compiled. Each participant was asked to recall an incident of gun violence in which they or someone they know was involved in. The details of these incidences were then captured on charts and grouped according to gender, age, race, relationship and circumstance.
While the test group was small, the image was sobering. In Cape Town, the statistics showed that the majority of perpetrators and victims of gun violence were male, coloured or black and aged 15-34. Additional insights that surfaced were that alcohol is generally not a factor in gun violence and victims and perpetrators are most likely to be strangers.
Kirsten confirmed that contrary to popular assumptions, those figures are in line with general statistics across South Africa.
Activator, Moloko Brian Ngoepe, who hosted the Tshwane workshop, said that the image was similar with his participants.
“Our pattern showed that the majority of perpetrators are young black males between 18-34 years, which is my age group,” he said. “It was very disturbing to find out that my peers are so violent.”
The second exercise involved re-imagining a gun-free South Africa. Participants were asked to illustrate their vision of what a South Africa without guns would look like and share it with the group.
Images that emerged painted a picture of a peaceful South Africa and included no toy guns in stores and no violent programming on television.
Nathacia Olivier who hosted the Johannesburg workshop said that the exercise was a real eye opener for her.
“It was interesting to see how young people in South Africa envision a gun free South Africa and how this was expressed in their illustrations,” she said. “I didn’t know a lot about guns and how they affect us as a country. It was shocking to see how many people are killed and how many people own guns. Now I know how important it is to have a Gun Free South Africa,” she said.
During the last exercise, participants were divided into groups and asked to come up with concepts around how they could reduce gun violence in their own communities.
Activators were innovative with their ideas and each concept involved ways of creating Gun Free Zones in their communities.
“Gun Free Zones are different from Firearm Free Zones that are enforced by law and where individuals can be arrested if they bring a firearm onto the premises,” said Kirsten. “A Gun Free Zone is a space where no guns are welcome or allowed and relies on buy-in from the community and stakeholders to enforce it.”
Activator Dean Jates from Cape Town plans to declare to Gun Free Zones in his area, Bonteheuwel. An area that is notorious for having a strong presence of gang and gun violence. He will also be hosting a series of dialogues on his doorstep to open up discussion about gun violence in his community.
“The Gun Free workshop showed me that it is key to speak about this issue because we have been desensitized and don’t see guns as a big thing anymore,” he said. “It is a normal thing if a gunshot goes off and some people even laugh about it.”
Perhaps the most provocative comment that emerged from the workshops came from Ngoepe when he said, “[the statistics] made me wonder whether all black men are violent, and if so, what are we doing about it in terms of policies and preventions, and what am I as an Activator doing to address this?”
ACTIVATE! aims to host Gun Free workshops annually to continue the dialogue on gun violence in support of a Gun Free society.
For more information on creating Gun Free Zones in your community, see http://www.gfsa.org.za/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/GFZ_brochure_FINAL.pdf
For more information on Gun Free South Africa, visit www.gfsa.org.za