School of Built Environment & Development Studies

UKZN hosts Webinar on a Restorative Approach to Social Justice

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Top from left: Dr Hema Hargovan, Dr Carl Stauffer and Mr Mike Batley. Bottom from left: Ms Venessa Padayachee, Ms Lesley Ann Van Selm and Professor Ann Skelton.
Top from left: Dr Hema Hargovan, Dr Carl Stauffer and Mr Mike Batley. Bottom from left: Ms Venessa Padayachee, Ms Lesley Ann Van Selm and Professor Ann Skelton.

The School of Built Environment and Development Studies in collaboration with Khulisa Social Solutions and the Restorative Justice Centre (RJC) hosted a webinar on Addressing Harm: A Restorative Approach to Social Justice, as part of Restorative Justice Week (21-28 November 2021) under the theme: Protect and Empower the Person Harmed.

UKZN’s Dr Hema Hargovan highlighted that over the past two decades, globally, restorative justice (RJ) has evolved and been applied in many contexts.  It is promoted as a ‘way of transforming our entire legal system, our family lives, our experiences at school and university, our conduct in the workplace, our practice of politics. What is clear is that restorative justice has been adopted through a multi-disciplinary, multipronged approach that traverses the arenas of peacebuilding, human rights and social justice, with the overarching theme being “access to justice”.’

Explained Hargovan, ‘South Africa’s restorative justice journey is inextricably linked to its socio-political history. Restorative approaches to justice in South Africa are largely informed by indigenous and customary responses to crime and conflict and include processes within and outside of the criminal justice system. The adoption and application of restorative approaches to justice in a range of policies and pieces of legislation, is due mainly to its transformative potential.

‘Its popularity may be attributed to varied emphases over the years of its benefits for offenders, victims, the wider community, and the criminal justice system. South Africa has also come a long way in mainstreaming restorative approaches at various phases of the criminal justice system through the inclusion of restorative approaches in legislation and policy, and by introducing and developing practices at the pre-trial, trial, sentencing, corrections and pre-release phases of the criminal justice process.’

Dean and Head of School Professor Ernest Khalema said, ‘In order to restore what is broken and address injustices, it takes all of us present today and in our case communities of practice to understand the impact of harm in our lives and how to restore dignity to victims, survivors, and those who have atoned and asked for forgiveness through words and deeds. This is an important event in the University’s calendar as it gives all of us an opportunity as a community to collectively tackle very important issues that affect us all.’

Dr Carl Stauffer, a strategic leader with 30+ years’ experience in peace, justice and reconciliation initiatives, delivered the keynote address on Restorative Justice: A Social Service or a Social Movement? He examined readiness to seize political opportunity, the ability to mobilise resources (both human and material), and the creation of a framing message (a social narrative) with populist appeal. ‘Based on these three pillars of measurement it seems that restorative justice could be defined as a burgeoning social movement.’

Stauffer is of the view that, as a social movement, RJ has the potential to move the current justice system into a process of monumental change. ‘RJ as an ethical worldview, a corporate vision and as a practical strategy for national justice policy reform and practice has great potential to address community building and peace.  It can provide alternative ways of doing and being that satisfy the requirements of true justice.’

Stauffer argued that while the notion of humility is hard to define, much less measure forgiveness, RJ as ‘facilitated processes’ have the potential to nurture humility and put it to work.

After briefly discussing understandings of humility, forgiveness, and restorative justice, Stauffer deliberated on how these approaches could be integrated. He noted the value-added effects of group humility (its virtues, benefits, and outcomes).

Stauffer highlighted the, ‘need to bind relational and structural transformation together at all levels of society with equal emphasis on the “safety” of those most affected by personal and structural violence, and “accountability” by those causing harm. This process requires that we “centre” the voice of the harmed, and build the community’s assets and resources to change oppressive structures in order to prevent future harm and establish a healing justice at the local, contextual level.’

Mr Mike Batley, co-founder and director of the RJC revisited the Restorative Justice National Policy Framework and Implementation Plan – 2016, which has yet to be finalised. He said, ‘There has been no guiding framework to advance restorative justice and no implementation or resources plan.’ Batley called for a new, broad alliance to advocate for increased implementation of RJ and for interested parties to lobby for the finalisation of the National Policy Framework by the Department of Justice, the development of a strategy and implementation plan to ensure systematic implementation supported at the highest levels and commitment to financial resourcing of the plan.

Ms Venessa Padayachee, a social worker in the criminal justice sector for over 26 years focussed on stories of healing and restoration. She shared case studies of three individuals and related how restorative justice was successfully implemented through community dialogues and support groups. ‘These cases show that restorative justice restores human dignity and brings healing to individuals and communities via a broad range of creative solutions to conflicts. Restorative justice and Ubuntu are key components of community development.’

Ms Lesley Ann Van Selm of Khulisa Social Solutions’ presentation was titled, Evidence of grassroots peace mediation – a case study. Khulisa Social Solutions has been operating in Alexandra for the past 20 years, ‘during which time we have rendered multiple programmes ranging from crime prevention, to entrepreneurship development, youth leadership, skills development, job creation, working with the elderly, and restorative services.’

Khulisa Social Solutions set up peace dialogues for the Alexandra community to address the unrest that broke out in the township in July this year. They partnered with the police to host peace-making dialogue circles. Van Selm said ‘the idea was to bring together the looters, parents, victims and others impacted by the violence to tell their stories, come to an understanding of what happened and begin a process of healing.’

In closing the webinar, Professor Ann Skelton of the University of Pretoria and member of the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child commented, ‘Despite its loss of credibility in recent decades, rehabilitation as a concept still looms large on the South African criminal justice landscape. Restorative justice offers a different view on how to promote the aim of a crime-free life for the offender, and South African criminal justice practitioners, researchers and academics are urged to engage in the discovery of realistic community-centred models.’

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