Between mediation and critique: Quaker nonviolence in apartheid Cape Town, 1976–1990

  • MTC Shafer
  • European Journal of Political Theory, August 2017, SAGE Publications
  • DOI: 10.1177/1474885117721414

Quaker nonviolence in apartheid Cape Town

What is it about?

In the final years of legal apartheid, the small community of Quakers in Cape Town, South Africa sought to apply their tradition of political and theological nonviolence to the systematic injustice of their social context. Drawing on archival evidence, this article examines the writings of Hendrik W van der Merwe, a prominent white Afrikaner sociologist, activist, and Quaker. I argue that van der Merwe developed an unusual account of Quaker pacifism that cast nonviolence in terms of engaged mediation rather than civil resistance or critique, and I demonstrate how this ethical and political position required a specific conceptualization of “violence” as an idea in order for its account of peacemaking to be intelligible as an interpretation of that Quaker tradition.

Why is it important?

The study of the development of van der Merwe's ideas has a twofold significance: it uncovers a form of anti-violence politics that has been widely neglected within political theories of nonviolence and pacifism, and it illuminates the concrete political stakes of ongoing debates about “narrow” and “wide” definitions of violence.

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The following have contributed to this page: Mr Matthew T. C. Shafer