A significant number of countries across the globe experience violent extremism, especially developing countries, undermining democratisation, economic growth and security. While violent extremism is a small part of South Africa’s violent context, it is a growing threat with potentially high impact. South Africa has yet to experience any significant acts of violent religiously motivated extremism, but experts agree that it is not immune to an attack. At this point, however, it is not well understood what would motivate an extremist attack on South African soil or from where the attack would originate.
Comparatively little work is being done to understand the drivers of violent extremism in South Africa, map at-risk communities, conduct activities to prevent violent extremism or create response mechanisms outside of law enforcement and intelligence activities. It is important to understand why people don’t turn to violent extremism, in addition to why they do, in order to develop effective policies and programmes to prevent or counter violent extremism.
In response to this need, ALPS Resilience undertook a survey pilot that provided crucial empirical evidence on extremism in South Africa with the intention of laying the groundwork for future research and programmes. At a workshop held in Pretoria in June, Dr. Barend Prinsloo from North-West University presented the initial results of the pilot survey to workshop participants.
ALPS Resilience also welcomed Dr Michele Grossman, Professor and Research Chair in Diversity and Community Resilience from Deakin University in Australia, to share her collaborative research on measuring youth resilience to violence extremism. Dr Grossman presented the findings from research conducted in Australia and Canada on developing the BRAVE-14, a 5-factor, 14-item standardized measure to assess youth resilience to violent extremism in culturally diverse communities. This measure grew out of earlier qualitative Australian (2014) and mixed-methods Canadian (2016) research that explored the ecology of socio-cultural assets in promoting and sustaining community resilience to violent extremism.
The workshop created an opportunity the keynote speakers to compare the Australian and South African experiences while sharing knowledge and lessons learned with academics, practitioners, government representatives and other key stakeholders on how to measure and build resilience to violent extremism.
Key messages from the workshop:
Empirical evidence is vital to ensure an understanding of the complex nature of violent extremism and to ensure effective responses. There is a need for more research on extremisms in South Africa that cuts across sociocultural groups and ideological orientations in several different municipalities.
It is important to identify both protective and risk factors. South Africa’s social divisions and a culture of violence are vulnerabilities that must be addressed. The values of tolerance and pluralism articulated in its Constitution could be drawn upon.
Building community resilience to violent extremism must adopt a multi-faceted approach grounded in understanding how different social resources and processes are dependent upon one another. Resilience is a social process that depends upon five key things: having meaningful resources available; understanding their interdependency; knowing how to access them; knowing how to use them; and distributing resource availability, access and competency across multi-level, multi-scalar dimensions of a society.
Resilience emerges as a response to challenge and adversity. Building resilience must therefore occur in contexts where vulnerabilities and challenges are already present.
For the full workshop report, click here.