Monday, January 31, 2011

Nonviolent Power

The Value of Direct Communication

When the characters of Professor Will Esterhuyse and Thabo Mbeki turned their backs on stereotypes in the PBS presentation of Endgame, they chose the path of direct communication for South African factions that faced the danger of civil war. We dare ask how important is that communication to nonviolent resistance.

The characters were shown as batting heads in negotiations that led to the South African government speaking to the African National Congress (ANC). The talks paved the way for the release of Nelson Mandela and a one person one vote rule in the country.

While most people believe nonviolent resistance focuses mainly on protests of marches, the element of direct communication stands out as a necessity to end any oppression. Goals set up by factions cannot be obtained when part of the goals are cloaked in secrecy.

In the presentation of Endgame, the goals were not clear in the beginning. Esterhuyse believed he was sounding out the ANC to find out when violence could be stopped. Mbeki thought he was breeching a barrier that would open up a dialogue with other Whites in the country. However, the government’s acceptance of the meetings occurred only because the state security force wanted to learn methods to weaken the ANC. In almost a similar manner, the ANC was fearful that too much information sent to Esterhuyse would weaken the ANC.

In one key scene, Esterhuyse and Mbeki saw each other as people instead of the inhuman enemy. That they struggled to learn about the best ways to solve a common problem. Esterhuyse defied the government to listen to the abuses from his government. He ignored his country’s security leader to confide in Mbeki so the talks could continue. Mbeki listened to the worries voiced by the White community through Esterhuyse. And Mbeki defied the radical part of the ANC that feared a loss of power through the conversations.
But real change blossomed because direct communication worked with the nonviolent strategies. Once the barrier of thinking the opposition is an evil nonhuman has been cast away, then the listening by each side enables the process to hear the cries of an opposition. Mbeki said that only when the ANC was viewed as an equal partner around the table could they begin to have meaningful change. Then when the talks start, the conversation could mirror the language of the opposition instead of express false beliefs that arise from propaganda. The Whites could hear about the problems of travel by Black workers. The ANC could hear the voice of land holders who sought to retain ownership. 

The Endgame presentation showed two men staring into each other’s eyes to seek a different way to solve conflicts instead of picking up the gun. Communication often is blocked by the propaganda spewed from the opposition that makes real people appear like animals. Communication usually is blocked when fear stops the process of hearing the other’s concerns. But, when people bypass those obstacles, and communication flows, each party can stop the cycle of pain. We are prompted to ask, if this process from South Africa was used to aid the Irish crisis and is being looked at by Hamas, why those same concepts could not be used more often in diplomacy.

Graphic credit to Endgame (2009) - IMDb

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