Pugwash Symposium on Human Security in the Southern African Context

Pugwash Meeting No. 236

Pugwash Symposium on Human Security in the Southern African Context
7-10 June 1998, Halfway House, South Africa

Report by Marie Muller

THE first Pugwash symposium ever to be held in South Africa was organised by the South African Pugwash Group and funded by the Royal Netherlands Government. The Institute for Security Studies (ISS), whose director (Jakkie Cilliers) is also a member of the South Africa Pugwash Group, gave logistical support. The opening plenary session took place at ISS (located at Halfway House/Midrand, halfway between Pretoria and Johannesburg), whilst the remainder of the meetings were held at an adjacent hotel and conference facility. Participating by invitation were 25 people from eight countries, including South Africa, Malawi, Zambia, Mozambique, Lesotho, Zimbabwe and the Netherlands. The symposium was originally planned as the first of two workshops, initiated jointly by the South African and Dutch Pugwash Groups. The second workshop, which will focus on donor involvement in the implementation of the recommendations of the first meeting in South Africa, will be organised by the Dutch Group and will take place in the Netherlands.

The symposium focused on conceptualising human security in the southern African region. It examined various approaches which should be adopted in dealing with the problem of human security in that context, and developed joint recommendations for contributing to the promotion of human security in the region. Welcoming speeches during the plenary were given by Marie Muller, a senior member of the South African Pugwash Group, Jakkie Cilliers, the Director of ISS, and Abdul Minty representing the South African Department of Foreign Affairs. Subsequently, working papers were delivered on An integrated approach to development and security; Human Security Pillars: democratization, politics and stability; Human Security Pillars: law and the state; and Human Security Pillars: co-operation and integration. Detailed discussions on these issues ensued over the two day period.

Conceptualising Human Security

THE dramatic changes in the international arena since the fall of the iron curtain a decade ago and far-reaching developments in the nature of global politics and economics have opened intellectual space to re-conceptualise the notion of “security”. There has consequently been a notable paradigm shift in the understanding of security, away from a narrow focus on the political, military and defence dimensions to a new, broader conceptualisation that “New Security” also includes economic, societal and environmental dimensions.

Re-conceptualising security has also necessitated re-thinking the concept of “threat.” Broadly speaking, threats can be grouped into three baskets:

  1. classic military threats: inter-state violence or insurgency;
  2. non-military threats: energy, water, gender discrimination, and ecological degradation;
  3. threats as a result of the reduced functional capacity of the state as evident in increases in poverty, unemployment, crime, corruption and transnational, organised criminal activities.

In essence, security concerns or threats are now delineated as any situations that make an individual feel insecure, including poverty, desertification, hunger, unemployment, gender dynamics, repression and ecological degradation. The United Nations 1994 Human Development Report defines human security as

…the sense that people are free from worries, not merely from the dread of a cataclysmic world event but primarily about daily life. Human security is people-centered while being tuned to two different aspects: It means, first, safety from such chronic threats of hunger, disease and repression. And second, it means protection from sudden and hurtful disruption in the patterns of daily life – whether in homes, in job or in communities.

This new conceptualisation recognises that an integral approach to development and security is needed. Security and development are intrinsically interwoven, and to attain them, a holistic approach is required. Development is seen as a process of extending the range of people’s choices, while security means that these choices can be freely and safely exercised over time. Security is both “freedom from want and freedom from fear”. Within this new understanding of security the workshop participants considered the problem of Human Security in the Southern African Context.

Approaches to Human Security

THE re-conceptualisation of “security” to include the individual dimension and the broader recognition of security concerns necessitates new approaches to security. These new approaches are premised on the understanding that in contrast to the short-term problem-oriented focus of traditional strategic studies, safeguarding human security requires the significant lengthening of time-scales within which security concerns are addressed. Security issues must be handled on a far deeper dimension. Whether discussing inter-state or inter-communal relations within a conflict-prone society or region, building confidence and security is an extended and interconnected process that includes transparency, problem solving, negotiation, the implementation of agreements and the creation and protection of valued political, cultural and economic relationships. Varied actions across the spectrum of social, economic, cultural, political and military interactions are required for stability, peace and conflict avoidance. Thus there is a need for more than confidence building measures. An “enabling environment” has to be created that will sustain stability. This highlights that new security approaches have to be cognisant of the fact that peace and stability are on-going processes. “Peace and security are not givens, they are treasures that must be nurtured”.

With this in mind, workshop participants considered human security in Southern Africa in terms of three approaches: the integrative approach, the multi-actor approach, and the regional approach.


DURING the workshop, a number of challenges became apparent in approaching Human Security in the Southern African Context in an integrative manner: Sovereignty, Capacity Building, and Non-State Actors

A Triad of Security Issues

THE group undertook an exercise in which they identified a series of issues that were, to their mind, of great importance to effective peace building and sustainable democracy and development in Southern Africa. These could be subsumed into three categories: Governance, Ownership, and Poverty and Economics.

These three were seen as a triad that greatly affect the pillars of security, development and human rights – which make up a peace building construct – in Southern Africa.

The group then dedicated some time to looking at each item and identifying the challenges, needs, role players, and levels for action needed to address these three fundamental issues.


THE group picked out common elements and needs from these three issues and came up with a roster of practical recommendations for the international and regional communities on points for immediate action to redress all three problems. These included information/advocacy and education; capacity building; creation or consolidation of more NGOs in the region; need for regional thinking versus national or local thinking; need to generate awareness among professional groups of people.

Aid by Northern donors in the effort to enhance human security in Southern Africa should, therefore, aim at contributing towards these aims.

The South African Pugwash Group used the opportunity offered by the symposium at Halfway House to invite all members of the Group and other interested persons to meet in order to discuss its activities. The meeting was attended by many symposium participants as well as other members of the Group and a number of new comers. The National Chairperson (Marie Muller) gave an overview of both international and South African Pugwash, in particular fund raising for the 49th Pugwash Conference to be held in South Africa in 1999. The newly appointed South African Student Pugwash Chairperson was also introduced and Professor Goma from Zambia, a long standing Pugwashite, was asked to talk briefly about Student/Young Pugwash and to suggest ways in which Student Pugwash could be launched in South Africa.