Negotiating a desired future for Cradock

After decades of division, residents of Cradock are coming together to envision a unified community, writes CECYL ESAU.

‘My mother told me that she was so excited because she was going to enter by one door with whites to buy something and that she would be respected by the children of the white people.’ Phumela recalls her mother’s expectations at the time of the first democratic elections in 1994.

At the time, Phumela was only two-years old. A bright learner from Matthew Goniwe High School, she yearns for a Cradock free from crime, although she believes there is a link between unemployment in the Eastern Cape town, and people who commit crime because ‘they want something to eat’. She is also concerned about the health of the community, describing a trip to the clinic: ‘(I) saw a statistic of people who are HIV positive, and it’s increasing here in Cradock.’

The town of Cradock is synonymous with the slaying of Matthew Goniwe, Fort Calata, Sparrow Mkonto and Sicelo Mhlauli in June of 1985. Targeted for their activism, the ‘Cradock Four’ were murdered by apartheid state security forces. On the day they were laid to rest a state of emergency was declared – at the time, only the second in South Africa’s history, though many more were to come.

The killing of Goniwe and his comrades also created a huge chasm between white and black African communities in Cradock. A divide deepened between, on the one hand, the white population and its well-armed security establishment, and on the other, a determined army of black women, men and youth committed to proceeding in the face of brutal repression.

Details of the persecution and murder of the Cradock Four – along with many other anti-apartheid activists – emerged in the hearings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) convened in the town in February of 1997. Instituted by the democratically elected government to explore the gross human rights abuses perpetrated since 1960 in South Africa, the TRC process uncovered some of the most violent, inhumane and hurtful aspects of life under apartheid. Moreover, the stories and images that emerged from the TRC provided slices of apartheid reality, which have impacted in various ways on South Africans taking tentative steps to establish a democratic state post-1994.

However, in addition to acknowledging the truths of the past, post-conflict communities such as Cradock also face the challenge of crafting a desirable future that is inclusive and takes cognizance of past injustices. This is a complex process and requires, among other things: willingness on the part of individuals and communities to explore and negotiate a new modus vivendi; activities and events that provide spaces and platforms for engagement; the pursuit of economic justice; and, the creation of new symbols that signify new beginnings and inclusiveness.

The IJR’s Reconciliation and Reconstruction (R&R) programme has been working in Cradock since 2000. This year, the Schools Oral History Project (SOHP) has trained learners in oral history methodology, visual literacy, writing and archiving. The SOHP has now incorporated a new inter-generational platform to explore a vision for Cradock’s future by 2019. This date – a decade away – will represent 25 years of democracy in South Africa.

The next ten years will also see two significant events taking place in Cradock: first, 2010 will mark the 25 year anniversary of the brutal slaying of the Cradock Four. The department of arts and culture plans to unveil a new memorial dedicated to their memory, in the form of a museum located on the national road from Port Elizabeth.

Second, 2014 will mark the 200th anniversary of the colonial founding of Cradock. While Cradock’s 150th anniversary in 1964 was celebrated in a community divided along apartheid lines, the bicentennial – together with the launch of the memorial museum – present ideal opportunities to explore the processes of reflection, and the concept of a democratic and united Cradock.

However, Cradock also faces the immediate challenge of overcoming potential alienation from these important initiatives, with potential to contribute to nation-building. A recent discussion on Cradock’s Vision for 2019 focused on issues such as: the impact of the apartheid past on participants; building blocks for a collective vision; the steps to realising a collection vision; and, the support required for it to be realised. Many participants in the discussion raised the importance of engaging fellow residents, and bridging historic divides.

Another challenge Cradock faces in pursuing its desired future is that of overcoming huge and persistent socioe-conomic inequalities, even more accentuated in the rural settings of the Eastern Cape. The rhetoric of the new South Africa belies the grinding poverty that remains heavily racialised. Moreover, the residential segregation that remains as a relic of apartheid South Africa is still the predominant residential experience for the majority of the population. Yet the new residential area of Hillside appears to be breaching Cradock’s historic and exclusivist settlement patterns.

In defining a way forward for Cradock, it is clear that the first step is to provide a platform for more open exchange and dialogue: considerable and measured thought must be given as to how this should be constituted. Since 1994, structured interaction across historic divides has often been facilitated by political parties, viewed as legitimate representatives of large constituencies, which are often racialised. Engaging with ‘the other’ is often on the basis of a political party programme, and the dominance of the majority party in elections has given it carte blanche to locate a party agenda at the centre of post-apartheid social reconstruction. In effect, these engagements have perpetuated the ‘them and us’ cleavage at community level.

In fact, a more inclusive process is required, and one that promotes understanding and identification of local social capital, for the reconfiguration of the local community. Here, negotiation and dialogue can be used as integral building blocks in the process of recreating a different and inclusive society. In this way, diverse needs, expectations and demands can be mediated, resulting in greater community and individual buy-in. Furthermore, negotiated processes of this kind contribute to individuals and communities moving beyond the comfort zones conferred by stereotypes of ‘others’, and imbuing ‘others’ as resistant to debate and change. Moreover, this approach engenders the politics of persuasion and deliberate engagement around matters of mutual interest.

How will this deliberate process of vision-making unfold? Events such as the launch of the Cradock Four memorial and the bicentennial anniversary can provide the grounds for inclusive engagement around preparations, the recognition of a shared and divided past, the celebration of the town’s unique role in South Africa’s struggle for democracy, and the charting of a desired collective future going forward.

Signs of this future are already evident in Cradock: as one black participant told the IJR after the end of a dialogue session, ‘I had a nice time sharing ideas with white and coloured people, and it was fun.’

Cecyl Esau is project leader of the Schools Oral History Project at the IJR.

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