The School of Built Environment and Development Studies within the College of Humanities, in collaboration with the South African Coalition for Restorative Justice, recently hosted a webinar under the theme: “Equitable Access to Restorative Approaches to Justice in South Africa”.
The webinar was held as part of International Restorative Justice Week. Every year, non-governmental organisations, state departments, community organisations, and academic institutions working in the field of restorative justice across the world organise a series of local events to raise awareness about restorative justice.
Speakers and panellists for this session drew linkages between restorative
justice, peace-building, and social cohesion and discussed how peace, healing, justice, and harmony may be realised in South African communities.
UKZN’s Dr Hema Hargovan said, ‘We need to move towards a space of justice. These organisations are doing great work with the offenders in correctional centres, looking specifically at the relevance of restorative justice in custodial settings. There are contestations of restorative justice, especially since we have high rates of crime, with calls for more severe punishment and the return of the death penalty. This is where we need to discuss the prevention of crime and the relevance and importance of restorative approaches.’
Dean and Head of the School, Professor Ernest Khalema said, ‘This is an important event in a University’s calendar as it gives all of us an opportunity as a community to collectively tackle very important issues that affect us all.’
Delivering the keynote address, Dr Dave Gustafson, Executive Director of Community Justice Initiatives Association in Langley, B.C., Canada, spoke to the topic of “The Wisdom is in the Story: Making Victim-Offender Dialogue Accessible to All: Lessons from the Canadian Experience”.
Gustafson traced the history of developments by his small non-profit organisation to implement Restorative Justice programmes and approaches which have changed the nation’s correctional policy and made healing services accessible to many – from schools in Langley to the nation’s prisons. ‘We are literally creating cultures of respect and responsibility, issuing a new climate of safety, belonging and of healing and transformation,’ he said.
Mr Mike Batley, a co-founder and Director of Restorative Justice Centre (RJC) looked at Developments in Restorative Justice in South Africa. He applied restorative justice values and approaches in a range of contexts from criminal justice reform, offender reintegration and victim empowerment to Gender-Based Violence, environmental issues, community conflict and building cohesion. Batley shared his vision of a restorative city through creating a movement to advance non-violent transformation and engaging at a political and administrative level to re-establish partnerships with the Department of Correctional Services. ‘These are the focus areas in the coalition that we believe we need to focus on,’ he said.
Social worker in the criminal justice sector, Ms Venessa Padayachee and qualified mediator, Ms Lisa Harries spoke about their newly formed South African Coalition for Restorative Justice (SACRJ) organisation. ‘We continue to build a database of practitioners and grow the coalition. We will be hosting Dr Gustafson in South Africa in March 2023; taking restorative justice
in schools and in prison, and raising awareness and the profile of restorative justice in the country,’ said Padayachee.
Added Harries, ‘We would like to see a broader application of restorative justice practices in the prevention of harm and conflict in South Africa, and to see communities become change agents. As we collaborate, we hope to create a common language for all people in different spaces. Our theoretical model is an ecological approach.’
Ms Lesley Ann van Selm of Khulisa Social Solutions spoke about her organisation which has been operational in Alexandra, Johannesburg, for 22 years; during which time they have rendered multiple programmes ranging from crime prevention, entrepreneurship development, youth leadership, skills development, job creation, working with the elderly, and restorative services.
In the past year, van Selm and her team have been looking at the causal factors of dysfunctionality, crime, and extreme violence in Alexandra. ‘We have been able to negotiate with different stakeholders and partners in the area to solve these problems and navigate a way forward through multiple stakeholder engagement. One of the key areas that we’ve been looking at is social and environmental justice. This opened up a whole new world in which individuals interact with the communities. This shows a total systemic approach where we can really start healing, not only individuals, but institutions and the community as a whole,’ she said.