Andreas Velthuizen has had a long and varied career in peacebuilding, conflict prevention, and dispute resolution, working in countries all over Africa. He is South African and is currently a Professor in Politics and African Studies at the University of South Africa, with a focus on Peace and Security theory and practice in Africa. In 2009, he retired from a 34-year military career that involved travel all over the continent and the world. Although he claims to never have officially practiced mediation, the work that he has done, training community peacebuilders in dispute resolution, working in communities plagued by violence, and designing interventions to prevent the outbreak of violent conflict, has left him with decades of experience in creating peace. When asked about his future in mediation, Andreas said he’s looking forward to applying this experience to getting more involved in community mediation when he retires from his post at the University.
The Institute for Dispute Resolution in Africa
Andreas became involved with MBBI after first being a longstanding member of Rotary International. He has been part of a team that has started a project with a Rotary club (The E-club of Rotary District 9400) – to do mediation capacity-building in Southern Africa, namely, to train mediators and peacebuilders; this project began before he even knew about MBBI. But now the groups are working together on plans and are formalizing a vocational training team for mediators alongside MBBI – hopefully to come together this year.
For over 30 years as a career officer in the South African army, Andreas worked in a variety of different capacities – from his beginning as a parachute officer to a researcher, to the kind of position he held in 2002 when he became a military advisor for a multi-national team responsible for implementing peace agreements in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). As he became embroiled in that situation, he also worked in 2017 and 2018 as a project leader integrating the public service of the DRC, preparing different rebel leaders so that they could live in relative harmony – as he modestly put it, he truly developed his negotiation skills in this role.
Before his current role as a professor, he was the Head for the Institute of African Renaissance Studies and Acting Head of the Institute for Dispute Resolution in Africa. From 2013 to 2017, Andreas worked as the project leader for the South African San Community Dispute Resolution project, doing community-based participatory research in the San Community in the Northern Cape. The scope of this research involved documenting dispute resolution practices, processes, and customs of the Ikun and Khwe lands and using said research to develop interventions to prevent violence in the community. A series of interventions were implemented, some of which continue to be used today. With donor funds and university sponsorship, a Knowledge Centre was built for the interventions and as a place to conduct dispute resolution training in the San village of Platfontein near Kimberley, the capital of the Northern Cape province.
Andreas maintains that it is important to have the wisdom that comes with age and experience in order to be a good mediator. He recounts that the first time he worked in this community he was only 20 years old, and without any experience and with large group mediation and facilitation, he struggled to help the community navigate the simplest social disputes. But that experience left him with the idea of working in dispute resolution practice and inspired him to return to the same community later in life with a broader understanding and the experience to work more in-depth with intervention practices. He has even facilitated a large-scale dispute resolution process during the Project, with a successful outcome of different people talking to each other for the first time in 10 years.
Andreas, although working to create and implement peacebuilding techniques, also believes that there is importance in the cultural history and context of traditional mediation practices; “In some ways, they are doing dispute resolution very well in the San Community; Western traditional dispute resolution – involving ligation, a winner, a loser – does not really work in African contexts. It rarely works to reestablish relationships.”
As a pragmatic peacebuilder, Andreas always looks for the most effective way to bring peace to the people he works with; “We can talk a lot about peace and we can write and study forever, but how do you implement it? So mediation, for me, is the ideal instrument for that – a very powerful instrument.” He names the three most important qualities and actions of someone working in dispute resolution as awareness, proper planning, and working to develop a personal style in order to help people restore relationships. By awareness, he means an understanding of the situation, a high level of self-awareness, cross-cultural understanding, and understanding the frame of reference for different parties (i.e. what pressures and demands do the system place on them?). This then can lead to proper planning; planning that is aligned with the needs and expectations of the parties concerned – it is especially important to keep in mind the bigger outcome, how will you involve other stakeholders, planning time and place, etc. Develop a personal style to restore relationships – specifically for that restoration, is something that happens naturally over time when working in this field.
Advice for anyone involved in peacebuilding: “you are not responsible for the personal healing of individuals, not of a whole society. But you have to work on your inner peace and apply it where you can.”
Written by Lizzy Nestor: MBBI Writer