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Sheena St Clair Jonker
 
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The Oscar Pistorius Trial: a violent answer to the problem of violence

10 April 2014, 18:07

Yesterday was the first day of cross-examination of Oscar. And it was a stark representation of why I, and others engaged in Alternative Dispute Resolution and Restorative Justice Peacemaking, are opposed to the adversarial system in civil justice and the accusatorial system in criminal justice as the best means to accomplish justice. Not all are as radically opposed to these adversarial methods as I am, however.

Allow me to explain. At the heart of Oscar Pistorius’ trial is the problem of violence. A young woman is dead. Not only is she dead, but she died at the hands of someone she knew, loved and trusted (although to what degree is an uncertainty). And she died in a most violent way. I am in no position to advance any view at all on the merits and whether or not Oscar is indeed guilty of murder (a product of intention). We do know, however that Reeva died at the hands of Oscar, wielding a gun. Whatever his intention. Whatever his state of mind at the time, an act of violence ended Reeva’s life.

I contend, and I have always contended that the criminal justice system is a violent system. It amounts to an attempt to answer the problem of violence with a violent “solution”. If you were sitting in your lounge yesterday, or your office or wherever else you may have been and exposed to the image of a dead Reeva with the most devastating head wound appear on your television, then you were exposed to an act of violence.

Oscar was literally bludgeoned with this image, and so were we. As a wife, mother, daughter, friend and human I simply cannot get okay with this.

The pre-occupation now seems to be about who is the greater combatant, the greatest “bull terrier”: Gerrie Nel or Barry Roux. The fact is that daily in court, either the state case or the defence case is dismantled at the hands of lawyers with the legal prowess of these men (obviously at varying degrees). And the real tragedy is that very often, the truth is massacred.

We cannot continue to think that we will ever address or transform the problem of violence if we continue to answer this problem with violent systems.

Most are quick to criticize restorative justice as being soft. This is completely wrong. Restorative Justice has much higher potential to get at the truth, precisely because levels of fear in the process are minimized and so wrongdoers and poor choice-makers feel less fearful and less exposed to perpetual harm. And truth paves the way for accountability which in turn provides more potential for learning and behavioural change. And that is what we want. We want the violence to stop. We want healing. No?

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