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Southern Africa Network

The Southern Africa Network is focused on connecting peace building and other conflict resolution organizations and practitioners to provide opportunities to share information and resources, and to exchange experiences and perspectives. The network intends to serve as a source of practical information about peacebuilding models that incorporate conflict resolution paradigms distinct from Western models. Through its listserv, the network also facilitates communication and dialogue about conflict resolution across the African continent. To subscribe to the listserv, please contact Jennifer Brower,

Southern Africa’s Climate for Mediation

The vibrant, culturally diverse and spiritually rich African continent today seems trapped in a cycle of local and regional conflicts. Reactive peace brokering initiatives often fail to address the underlying social, economic and cultural dynamics which may fuel a conflict situation. 

Once, mediation of disputes by appointed or hereditary authorities was a central feature of public life in much of Africa. But as historical forms of dispute resolution disappear through urbanisation and the dissolution of traditional structures, communities form that are ignorant of alternatives to litigation, or skeptical of the efficacy of mediation.

To remedy this, legislative mechanisms may be adopted to compel people to embrace mediation as a first step in conflict resolution. However, in emerging democracies; such as South Africa, legislation mandating mediation is slow to take root and justice is sought through traditional court structures.

It is this paradigm that the African Initiative for Mediation (AIM) seeks to shift, taking a multi-pronged approach to bring mediation back to dispute resolution in Southern Africa. Through advocacy, AIM will seek to popularise mediation in public and corporate structures. Through communication campaigns and mediated interventions, we hope to bring it into the public consciousness.

In South Africa, one of the features of post-apartheid legislation has been a preference for specifying dispute resolution mechanisms, particularly conciliation, followed by arbitration. Starting with the Constitution, the Public Protector is given the power to resolve disputes by mediation, conciliation or negotiation. The Human Rights Commission may similarly by mediation, conciliation or negotiation endeavour to resolve any dispute involving a violation of human rights. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission, similarly, was empowered to utilize mediation to facilitate reconciliation and redress for victims. Other legislation – relating to diverse areas such as labour, environmental, divorce, maritime and land – provides for the resolution of disputes by conciliation and arbitration. Despite this clear policy, and the existence of sympathetic traditions such as indigenous law and the processes of democratic institutions, a mediation culture has failed to take root in South Africa. The reasons are complex and varied and include a lack of systematic training of mediators, professional endorsement and allocation of resources.
– Gina Barbieri, ACR Network Coordinator, Southern Africa

Gina Barbieri,, is the executive director of the African Initiative for Mediation (AIM), which promotes mediation as a conflict resolution mechanism through research, training and networking with public and private agencies in Southern Africa. Gina has also run her own employment law practice for the past eight years, and serves on the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA). As an accredited trainer and assessor, she worked with the CCMA to develop a program on conflict management in the workplace, piloted in 2007.

Jennifer Brower holds an MA in negotiation and conflict management, with AIM’s Second Quarterly Newsletter – June 2007 experience in family mediation, capacity-building, and social activism. She is fluent in Portuguese and Spanish. Currently, Jennifer resides in Lilongwe, Malawi, where she is working in the area of justice and peace concerning religious disputes in the region, as well as inheritance rights of girls and women in the region.