Peace initiative thriving

A panel discussion was led by Vikas Khandelwa, chief executive officer of BNP Paribas South Africa (standing). The panellists were, from left, Regan Adams, the CEO of RCS, Forest Whitaker, mayor Dan Plato and Antoine Sire, BNP Paribas executive director.

American actor and social activist Forest Whitaker visited his Whitaker Peace and Development Initiative (WPDI) in Bridgetown on Thursday November 14, to check on progress made there.

The WPDI’s Youth Peacemaker Network was launched in Bridgetown three months ago, where 45 young people from the Cape Flats are receiving training in peace initiatives, information technology, and entrepreneurship.

These trainees will in turn become trainers of trainees, as they take their work into the communities they are from.

The 45 youths are from areas most affected by gang violence in Cape Town. They were chosen based on their personal experience and capability to act as agents of change in their communities.

They are in the process of educating 360 young people from communities across Cape Town to become social development ambassadors, by learning how to engage with residents to mediate conflicts and foster peace.

On Thursday, Mr Whitaker was joined by Cape Town mayor Dan Plato and French ambassador Aurelien le Chevalier, among others, at the media conference hosted at the WPDI’s community learning centre.

Mr Whitaker said: “I was here on a project a few years ago, and it allowed me to explore the Cape Flats, including Hanover Park, Mitchell’s Plain, Langa, Gugulethu and Hangberg. I was able to get to understand a little bit about it, and what I realised is that it is similar to my roots. Success always works when there is a close co-operation between the community, business and government. The young people want to be able to serve the community and make a difference.This is the 17th community learning centre in the world, which has helped to establish 60 or more businesses, and also working towards conflict resolution in schools. Each of them will be a seed for peace. It’s exciting to witness the commitment here.”

WPDI programme director Dr Chance Chagunda said: “Where there is no peace, there cannot be development. We want the Cape Flats to be a place where you want to aspire to be.” The mission of the WPDI is to empower young people from vulnerable areas to become leaders, peacemakers and entrepreneurs in their communities and to bring about peace and stability.

The programme has been successfully rolled out in communities impacted by conflict in other parts of the world, including South Sudan, Uganda, America and Mexico.

Sesethu Tyali, from Khayelitsha, who is a trainer of trainees in the programme, said she felt honoured to be an ambassador for peace.

“I’m from a community impacted by violence, and to be selected as an agent of change, and someone that my community can look to, is exciting. The WPDI equips us with skills that include peacekeeping and conflict resolution. This is important as we share the message within our community that there is an alternative to joining gangs.”

Another trainer of trainees, Joseph Jacobs, grew up in Delft and moved to Beacon Valley five years ago.

He said that when he was introduced to WPDI, he felt like it was God-sent.

“We are from the communities we serve, so the solutions will be internal, not external. WPDI brought out the hope in me. I didn’t think peace could be possible on the Cape Flats. I am very grateful to Mr Whitaker for bringing this programme to the Cape Flats. Peace is the light that will scatter the darkness,” he said.

Mr Le Chevalier said one often thought of peacemakers as global leaders, but they were actually in our communities.

Mr Plato said the City of Cape Town could not tackle social issues on its own but needed partnerships.

“Investment in the lives of young people is so important. We appreciate Mr Whitaker and his organisation and we will support it,” Mr Plato said.

The five-year programme is in partnership with the BNP Paribas Group South Africa, and consumer finance business RCS, a subsidiary of BNP Paribas.

Over the next three years, the programme will help empower approximately 2 400 young people to become leaders and champions to address problems in their schools and communities.