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Meditation, American Style

By France Griggs Sloat

For six months last year, William Waters spent four hours every Thursday trying to keep bitter rivals from killing each other. The warring factions were the administration and employees of the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Durban, South Africa. Their disputes began boiling in 1994 and now—after the faculty, staff and services threatened to strike—they were about to boil over. “It was a perfect storm,” he says.

 

Waters, though, was familiar with such disputes. He earned a master’s in criminal justice from Xavier in 1973 and was a professor of criminal justice at Northern Michigan University for 23 years. Now retired, he was in Durban working in KwaZulu’s peace and conflict resolution program and had been asked to mediate their massive conflict.

Using the Zulu he learned during his prior two visits, along with his French and English, he managed to get the two sides talking—even reaching a tentative agreement, which is particularly sweet knowing the historic and cultural distance South Africa has come since the days of Apartheid. “When I left, all sides were talking,” he says. “It’s gratifying to see people talk who have been ready to tear their jugulars out.” He hopes to return to continue teaching administrators and students, many who’ve known bloody civil unrest, how to resolve disputes civilly without resorting to violence or the courts.

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