I set out to research and write this book because no one else had written a comprehensive account of The National Peace Accord, and because the seed was planted in my mind one evening a few months into the life of the peace committees. I was among colleagues from the Wits/Vaal region, propping up a bar in Braamfontein, Johannesburg, at the end of an adrenalin-filled day. Charles Nupen, human rights lawyer and Director of the region, was present. Charles said: ‘You know, we are making history – and we don’t have time to stop and write it up!’ That remark struck me and stayed with me. Later I made sure that the records of the Local Peace Committee on which I served were archived at the University of the Witwatersrand.
I served as a volunteer churches representative on the Local Peace Committee in Alexandra township, in the northeast suburbs of Johannesburg, from April 1992, through the first democratic election in April 1994, until the structures were dismantled in December 1994. Then, because hundreds were still displaced, I co-chaired a new committee that revived the peace process in Alexandra among those worst affected by the conflict. A peace declaration, with a commitment to work together for reconciliation and reconstruction, was signed on 1 May 1995, and the process continued. I handed over the chairing in April 1996 when I became Chaplain and Tutor in Theology at St John’s College in Oxford, but having a home near Alexandra I kept in touch.
I was aware of two short books about the Accord, by the Democratic Party MP Peter Gastrow, who served on the National Peace Secretariat, and by Susan Collin Marks who was a mediator on the Western Cape Regional Peace Committee. I wondered about the possibility of writing a comprehensive book. The opportunity came when I ‘retired’ in 2011 and received an Emeritus Research Fellowship, which has greatly helped with travel.
I started with a very simple ‘research question’: What happened, why, and how? When I first encountered the peace process, in 1992 just as it was hitting the ground in the troubled Johannesburg area, I was amazed by the National Peace Accord itself, the comprehensive nature of the peace committees and the convening and peacemaking powers that were conferred on them. I had no idea of just how the Accord had come about.
On beginning the research it was fascinating to find the people who had been involved, to get the story from them and discover that two of them still kept, in their homes, the records of the negotiation process. I discovered that national records existed but most of the regional and local committee records had not been preserved. I was familiar with the Wits/Vaal region but needed to travel to far flung corners of South Africa to interview people and gather the remaining documentation, in order to understand the issues and activities of the other ten regions. Finally, it all came together in what I hope will prove to be a really useful book!
Revd Dr Liz Carmichael MBE is an Emeritus Research Fellow at St John’s College, Oxford, where she convenes the peace studies network of Oxford University. She worked as a medical doctor in Soweto 1975-1981, and in the Anglican Diocese of Johannesburg 1991-1996 while also serving on the local and regional peace structures.