Jan Hofmeyr 2021 marks the implementation start of the IJR’s new strategic framework that will run until 2024. Our new framework endeavours to deepen our commitment to the organisation’s original vision of building fair, inclusive and democratic societies for Africa, through the alignment of cutting edge research, dialogue methodologies, capacity building interventions, and advocacy campaigns.

In many ways, the new strategy seeks to build upon the quality of interventions that were achieved during the previous cycle. Having invested substantial resources into the infrastructure and execution of the previous strategy, it only makes good sense to leverage off our previous successes and insights. During this period our work has resulted in expanded policy influence, a broadening of research capacity and output, and importantly also, a number of qualitative improvements in the sense of agency experienced by many of the communities with which we partner. These achievements should be celebrated. They point to impact in the creation of a broader body of knowledge on good practice, which is required to address the systemic challenges of divided societies in a multipronged way.

In the course of the preceding four years, there was also much learning to be done. Because we work in partnership with communities and societies, which by their very nature are complex and dynamic, we frequently had to adjust course in pursuit of our vision. Not always were the outcomes those that we anticipated. On many an occasion we had to return to the drawing board and question our basic assumptions. Amid our successes, there have, therefore, also been humbling experiences. Mostly they reminded us that while we have built up substantial expertise in the field of transitional justice, our real strength lies in our capacity to provide neutral dialogue platforms and research support that allow our stakeholders to unlock their own potential and resources in the resolution of historical conflicts.

In the coming four years, we would like to capitalise more consciously on the 20 years of field experience. As such, the strategic plan prioritises innovation, within our five core thematic areas, which are: cross-border dialogue and regional reconciliation; anti-racism, social inclusion and social cohesion; advancing human dignity and bottom-up reconciliation; transitional and survivor-centred justice and reconciliation; and socio-economic justice and inclusive development. At the heart of this endeavour will be the strengthening of our monitoring, evaluation and learning (MEL) system, in a way that converts both success and failure into better and more targeted operational and programmatic interventions.

The new strategy was crafted in 2020 against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic. While it was probably one of the most challenging years in our organisation’s history, these conditions enabled IJR to focus very closely on the changing conditions that shape the environments within which we work, the operational model that we use, and the competing pressures that our funding partners are experiencing amid this global crisis. We believe that these circumstances, although extremely challenging, will contribute to IJR’s resilience in the long-term. The most immediate benefits have come in the form of the efficiency with which we conduct our operations. As we find new ways to reach our stakeholders, they will also become increasingly visible in our programme content. At the time of writing, circumstances allowed for some physical travelling to stakeholder groups. This has been a relief, in light of the close relationships that we have with the communities in which we work. We can, however, say with confidence that, in the event of further restrictions on our movements in the coming months, we will be much better positioned than a year ago, to execute our programmes remotely.

Since the last appearance of this newsletter in December 2020, our organisation suffered two massive losses, following the passing of our Executive Director, Stanley Henkeman, and former staff member Cecyl Esau. Apart from being the head of our organisation, Stan distinguished himself as one of the country’s top social dialogue facilitators. His loss is not only ours, but also the country’s at a time, when we need much more conversation amid the growing polarisation of our society. Cecyl, an anti-apartheid struggle stalwart, became one of the leading oral history practitioners while at IJR, documenting the stories of ordinary South Africans who continue to live with the legacy of apartheid. Although by all objective standards a hero, Cecyl remained the epitome of a servant leader, always more interested in the stories of others, than telling his own. We also lost one of our board members, Prof. Lovell Fernandez, in December 2020. Prof. Fernandez was one of the organisation’s founding board members, who made a substantial contribution in overseeing the governance of a growing organisation over the past two decades. While these losses have been a terrible blow to IJR, their legacies will continue to inspire us as we embark on our new strategic plan.

The IJR board has requested me to serve as Acting Executive Director until such time as a permanent Executive Director has been appointed to replace Stan. The organisation hopes to have completed this process by the end of June this year. I regard this as a significant responsibility, and am grateful for the support that I have thus far received from the IJR board, staff and senior management team.

Jan Hofmeyr, Acting Executive Director for IJR