Boy­cott won’t help

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - LIFE -

IT IS a pity an or­gan­i­sa­tion such as the Cen­tre for the Study of Vi­o­lence and Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion (CSVR) could be pre­vented from at­tend­ing a sem­i­nar in Is­rael (South Africans with­draw from Is­raeli con­fer­ence, Week­end Ar­gus, June 26).

South African civil so­ci­ety groups have great ex­per­tise and ex­pe­ri­ence of work­ing in con­tested so­ci­eties. The his­tor­i­cal ex­pe­ri­ence of those groups in bring­ing about a ne­go­ti­ated set­tle­ment would be in­cred­i­bly valu­able in help­ing to fa­cil­i­tate an end to the Is­raeli/Pales­tinian con­flict.

A cen­tral les­son of the South African tran­si­tion is the im­por­tance of bring­ing peo­ple of dif­fer­ent po­lit­i­cal and ide­o­log­i­cal per­sua­sions to­gether in or­der that they might reach a com­mon un­der­stand­ing. An ap­proach that set out to di­vide and sep­a­rate peo­ple, and pre­vent them from talk­ing to each other, could never have achieved that re­sult.

Dic­tat­ing who South African civil so­ci­ety groups should (or should not) meet with would seem to be at odds with the ex­pe­ri­ence of our own tran­si­tion. Surely one of the great free­doms in­her­ent in our con­sti­tu­tion is the right to meet with any group to share and ex­change views and ex­pe­ri­ences. To limit such free­dom is equiv­a­lent to cen­sor­ship – no dif­fer­ent in many re­spects to the dam­ag­ing de­ci­sions that the SABC has re­cently taken on what South Africans should be al­lowed to see and hear. Quite rightly civil so­ci­ety in South Africa has con­demned the go­ings on at the SABC. Be­cause we take se­ri­ously the free­doms af­forded in the con­sti­tu­tion the In­sti­tute of Race Re­la­tions has de­cided not to par­tic­i­pate in boy­cotts that seek to un­der­mine the free flow of ideas and in­for­ma­tion be­tween dif­fer­ent groups. In our anal­y­sis the boy­cott ap­proach deep­ens ten­sions while of­fer­ing no pos­si­bil­ity of find­ing a res­o­lu­tion to the crises in the broader Is­raeli/Pales­tinian re­gion.

We re­main open to work­ing with any Is­raeli or Pales­tinian group which might find some ad­van­tage in learn­ing from our South African ex­pe­ri­ence. In time our ap­proach may help to en­sure that the peo­ple in that volatile re­gion may also come to share com­pletely in the bounty of free­doms that we en­joy in South Africa.

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