Peace activists gather in Cape Town

(An edited version of this article was published in Weekend Argus, a weekly regional newspaper in the Western Cape province, South Africa, on 6 July 2014.)

Written by Yazeed Kamaldien

A giant picture of a broken AK-47 gun sprawling across the Grand Parade and peace activists gathered at the City Hall are part of a five-day event opposing violence and the arms industry.

South African visual artist and filmmaker Ralph Ziman, based in Los Angeles, is this weekend installing his ‘Broken AK-47’ artwork as a means to “highlight the effect arms trade”.

The 100-metre wide and 35-metre long installation depicts two arms holding up and breaking an AK-47. It is made of paper glued to the ground and will have a lifespan of up to six months, said Ziman.

It is intended to also raise awareness of the War Resister’s International (WRI) conference running at the City Hall until Tuesday. London-based WRI will gather almost 200 activists from around the world at its ‘Small Actions, Big Movements: the Continuum of Nonviolence’.

Peace activist Archbishop Desmond Tutu with Palestinian activist Omar Barghouti. Picture by Yazeed Kamaldien

Peace activist Archbishop Desmond Tutu with Palestinian activist Omar Barghouti. Picture by Yazeed Kamaldien

Ziman said he wanted to “highlight the arms trade, especially in developing countries where governments say they don’t have money for food but can buy arms”.

“We saw that in South Africa as well. It makes my blood boil. Did that money have to be spent on submarines and helicopters? Where are the schools and hospitals?” he asked.

Ziman was referring to the country’s controversial arms deal, currently scrutinised by a commission of enquiry.

Ziman said he was always opposed to violence and left South Africa when he was 19. That was in 1983 and he wanted to avoid joining the apartheid government army.

“I worked with the SABC straight after high school. Then I had to join the army, but I didn’t want to have to tell my children that I was in the apartheid army. It wasn’t something I was prepared to do,” said Ziman.

He traveled first to England, where he got involved in making music videos, and later settled in Los Angeles. Years later, he returned to South Africa to direct the film Jerusalema, a film “about the aspirations of people not being met by the government 15 years after apartheid”.

Ziman said he wanted to spread the image of breaking an AK-47 as a means to end violence. He said he wanted to install the image in other cities too.
“I want it to be burned into people’s consciousness,” said Ziman.

He added: “I grew up in South Africa in the 1960s and 1970s. It’s hard when you come from that background… We grew up in a world of politics and activism in an extension of that.”

WRI has meanwhile drawn up a conference programme that includes anti-apartheid activist Ahmed Kathrada as a guest speaker. Its guests also include Palestinian and Israeli activists talking about peace, and African-based NGOs working to end conflict on the continent.

It is hosting a free public event at the City Hall tonight (SATURDAY) from 7pm. Musicians from Mozambique and Tanzania are set to perform. Various multi-medium exhibits will also be on show in the venue.

Locals interested in finding out more about the conference can log on to http://www.wri-irg.org.

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About Yazeed Kamaldien

Self-employed journalist and photographer from South Africa.

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