Achieving justice for the people through mediation

2011-12-15 00:00

BEFORE the colonisation of South Africa, the ­traditional method of conflict resolution involved ­mediation between conflicting parties by elders in the family. If that failed, then the induna (headsman) would become involved as a mediator, and should that fail, the dispute would be referred to the Chief’s Court.

After the colonisation of South Africa, the ­Magistrate-Court system was introduced, and it allowed for appeals against decisions of the Chief’s Court.

Over time, because of their power to overturn decisions of the Chief’s Court, Magistrate’s Courts were approached in the first instance, and the initial mediatory processes were often ignored. However, it is time consuming and costly to litigate, and the courts are clogged up with cases which can take years to be heard. Many of these cases could be resolved out of court.

That is why the Centre for Criminal Justice (CCJ) has made it a priority to enable people living in ­townships, rural areas and peri-urban areas to be able to obtain free legal advice, and to use mediation as an initial phase of solving any dispute.

CCJ is a research centre affiliated to the law school of the University of KwaZulu-Natal. CCJ has ­established an outreach programme in rural and peri-urban communities in KwaZulu-Natal. The ­programme provides access to justice to ­disadvantaged communities who lack the means and ­knowledge to claim their rights. This is done by providing free legal advice and an option of mediation as an initial phase of solving a problem through the provision of support centres with paralegals in police stations and Magistrates Court throughout the KwaZulu-Natal midlands areas.

The paralegals staffing the CCJ support centres are equipped and trained to mediate disputes between people. The paralegal staff will bring a neutral, objective perspective to the dispute, and will provide the parties with knowledge about their legal rights. He or she will ensure that negotiations do not go off track, and that they do not become overly heated and confrontational.

This enables the parties to reach an informed decision about whether and how to settle the dispute. The parties do not lose control of the process — they decide whether to settle, and must agree to the terms of the settlement.

CCJ’s statistics show that, from 2008 to 2010, 97% of the cases mediated within CCJ’s support centres were successful.

Mediation can be used to resolve just about any type of dispute — workplace disputes, ­family matters, social disputes, community disputes, commercial disputes and other legal disputes. Through mediation, the support centres have also been able to facilitate maintenance payment, totalling hundreds of thousands of rands.

• Linda Manyathi is a research assistant at the Centre for Criminal Justice (CCJ), based in the Law Faculty, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg.

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