South Africa for historical reasons commanded world attention for decades. The word that best describes this attention is the word ‘Apartheid’, a form of constitutionalised racism. Few political structures have captivated world attention the way Apartheid did. It united socialist and capitalist countries against it, brought about unity of purpose between the rich and the poor, East and West, in their opposition to it.
Rather than being an ugly aberration, SA was really an extreme parable of an entire global system. It was, and to a certain extent, still is today, literally the First World and the Third World, living side by side in the closest proximately, with one literally killing the other for the sake of its own wealth and privilege, and the other suffering and dying, just out of sight and hearing of its executioners. This bleeding land was and is a microcosm of the oppressive dynamics which now govern the world order.
South Africans did not stand alone in the struggle against Apartheid, the wold stood with them and not least their African neighbours who received, sheltered, educated and helped train thousands of South Africans to return home and take up the fight against Apartheid. This was done at enormous cost to their own countries that paid a heavy price for this solidarity and support.
It is a scandal that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (1996 – 1999) did not investigate gross human rights violations in neighbouring African countries that bore the brunt of the vicious SA regime’s capacity to strike back with impunity in foreign soil. Somehow those innocent people killed for offering a safe haven to so many SA did not seem to count.
Since the democratic transition in 1994, the SACBC received numerous requests to assist in the areas of conflict management from Catholic Churches across the continent. SA owes a huge debt to its African neighbours for their support during the dark days of Apartheid. The Bishops felt the need to repay the debt by responding as best as they could to the requests received.
The lot fell on the SACBC Justice & Peace Department to go to those countries and support them in whichever way they could. The outcome was that the J&P Department was now spending most time outside of the country and their work in the country was suffering!
Therefore, the Bishops decided to establish the Peace Institute, which would have a specific mandate to respond to the call of Africa.