Initiative trains facilitators to create dialogue between offenders and victims

2013-09-04 00:00

THANKS to a joint initiative between the Department of Correctional Services and UKZN’s College of Humanities, the University of KwaZulu-Natal is set to be the first in the country to offer academic training for facilitators of victim-offender dialogues.

This joint operation is expected to start either sometime this year or by January 2014, once a memorandum of understanding has been finalised between the Department of Correctional Services and UKZN.

Speaking at the launch of the partnership recently, the deputy vice-chancellor and head of the College of Humanities, Professor Cheryl Potgieter, expressed confidence at working with the Department of Correctional Services.

“With our expertise and skills, UKZN will be able to assist the Department of Correctional Services as best as we can in the training of its facilitators for the Victim-Offender Dialogue,” Potgieter said.

The appointment of Sibusiso Ndebele — the former KwaZulu-Natal premier — as minister two years ago, has seen much emphasis on the creation of a space for dialogue between the offender and offended. Here, the offender is given another chance and equipped to rejoin society through dialogue, learning and study, and the offended receives due closure.

Since this initiative falls primarily under the School of Religion, Philosophy and Classics, in the religion and governance programme, The Witness spoke to Dr Simangaliso Kumalo, the programme leader, and Professor Johannes Smit, the dean and head of the School of Religion, Philosophy and Classics.

According to Kumalo: “Not only the offended deserve space to come to terms with what happened, but even the offenders need to get to the point where they acknowledge the results of their actions and maybe make amends with the people they offended.”

Smit highlighted that there is a general paradigm shift from a discourse on incarceration to a discourse on rehabilitation. This echoes the words of Ndebele, who acknowledges that there is strong emphasis on “movement from a classical approach to criminology with its bias towards the offender bearing full responsibility and deserving of retribution, to the positivist approach, which sees the work of rehabilitation of the offender as the work of society. This is based on the understanding that there is a possibility of transformation for the offenders into law-abiding citizens.”

Part of the Victim-Offender Dialogue will consist of training facilitators to help prepare victims, offenders and society before the actual dialogue starts. The facilitators will also play an important role during the dialogue itself and during the period when the offender has to return to society.

With about 30 prisoners released daily in KwaZulu-Natal, there is a need for victim-offender dialogue to help society and the released offender to rebuild a relationship of trust.

In South Africa, there is currently no institution training people to facilitate this vital but sensitive dialogue beyond the basic theological formation of prison chaplaincy.

“People in jail are also spiritual people, coming from a variety of spiritual backgrounds, religions and denominations, so this calls for properly trained and qualified prison chaplains and officials, who will not only have degrees in the appropriate fields, but, most importantly, cater for the needs of all religious faiths,” Smit said.

Once the memorandum of understanding is signed, this initiative will see collaboration from other disciplines like criminology, law, and psychology, among others.

This initiative bridges the gap between academia and society. It is an invaluable drive towards pragmatic training aimed at equipping graduates for jobs and vacancies that actually exist.

Kumalo is very enthusiastic about UKZN being the first university in the country to embark on this programme.

“We are taking the university to the Department of Correctional Services and inviting the department to come to the university,” he said.

 

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