Guest Column

OPINION: No true reconciliation without restorative justice

2019-12-16 07:00
Forgiveness, depending on the level of wrong-doing, comes easier for some than it does for others, says the writer. (iStock)

Forgiveness, depending on the level of wrong-doing, comes easier for some than it does for others, says the writer. (iStock)

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For us in South Africa, restitution has become a very important aspect of restorative justice, because it is about "restoring a thing to its proper owner", and "the reparation for an injury" as the South African Pocket Oxford Dictionary describes it. In this respect I dare to say that apartheid will not be put to bed until every person has a piece of land or a house, writes Chris Jones

Reconciliation Day, celebrated annually on December 16, is about healing the divisions of our country's past and signalling the promise of a shared future, irrespective of race, culture, sexual orientation or creed.

It was inaugurated in 1995, and since then we've made significant progress, among others, with a remarkable Constitution based on democratic values, social justice and fundamental human rights.

However, much more is needed.

I think we are currently at a point in our democracy where we need to say: there cannot be true reconciliation without effective restorative justice. To explain this, a few very important building blocks of restorative justice need to be unpacked briefly.

I do not know of anyone who does not support the idea of reconciliation, but too often the calls for reconciliation fall short of the process of restorative justice, and thus fail to accomplish the healing work we so desperately need in our country.

Restorative justice has the ability to transform the deep roots of injustice done by and to people. Restorative justice begins when you as "perpetrator" are willing to deal with a specific injustice (or mistake) you did to someone.

If you are not prepared to deal with that particular injustice, in other words if you deny it and do not address it significantly, freedom and reconciliation will evade you. Without it, reconciliation will remain a pipe dream.

So, to start the journey of restorative justice, the first step is always to admit the injustice you’ve done, then study and analyse it properly in order to try and understand the extent and consequences of your harmful actions.

For this to happen, you must dethrone yourself from the centre of your world and put the injured person(s) there, and so honour the inviolable sanctity of other human beings, treating them with absolute justice equity and respect.

After this has been achieved, you must take responsibility for the injustice you did. Once you have succeeded in this, you must be willing to confess, and after true confession, repentance is needed. This creates the possibility of forgiveness.

This brings us to a crucial station in the process of restorative justice. If one is not able to forgive the person who has harmed you, or if you can’t forgive yourself, there can be no freedom and reconciliation. You will invariably fall back to where you were before the process began.

Forgiveness, depending on the level of wrong-doing, comes easier for some than it does for others. However, it is difficult to find a more selfless, modern-day message of forgiveness than that of our former president, Nelson Mandela.

After being imprisoned for 27 years, simply for his protest against apartheid, one might expect that he would hold at least a small grudge. But, as he so eloquently said himself: "As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison."

In light of the absolute necessity of forgiveness, we must keep on asking our victims to truly forgive us for our inhumanity. For our selfishness and greed. For leaving so many people unhoused, despondent and without hope.

The moment forgiveness breaks through and is reached, the souls of the parties involved are (normally) liberated and the process of restorative justice can progress to restitution. As you by now have observed, the further you travel on this road, the more difficult it is to get passed the different stations.

For us in South Africa, restitution has become a very important aspect of restorative justice, because it is about "restoring a thing to its proper owner", and "the reparation for an injury" as the South African Pocket Oxford Dictionary describes it.

In this respect I dare to say that apartheid will not be put to bed until every person has a piece of land or a house.

Without achieving this, there will be no true reconciliation in South Africa.

People should have title rights so they can borrow money and improve their lives or even sell their property.

When you have full ownership of your piece of land or house, you can die, knowing that your children and grandchildren have a place to go, someone recently said.

Property gives dignity. Land gives life.

According to Willa Boezak, Khoisan researcher and writer, people are spiritually and socially connected to land. If you deprive people of their land, you cut that "umbilical cord".

The plea for ownership of land or a house for every voting citizen in our country must go hand in hand with responsibility and reasonableness.

In addition to this, food security and economic growth can't be sacrificed, whilst quality education, job creation and establishing a good work ethic will always be essential.

I am convinced that the moment the importance of restitution, especially with regards to house- and land ownership, is realised, the possibility of true reconciliation will increase tremendously.

And where people are reconciled, healing and wholeness take place and people start living to their full potential.

However, having said this, we must always remember that reconciliation is not a permanent address. It is never a final destination, but the consistent casting of the proverbial net.

Be that as it may, if we don’t travel the road of restorative justice effectively (and this also applies to certain post-1994 issues), we'll continue inflicting endless harm onto ourselves, onto each other and onto our society.

And we won't make the necessary advances to become a society at peace with itself.

- Dr Chris Jones heads the Unit for Moral Leadership in the Faculty of Theology at Stellenbosch University.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.  

Read more on:    justice  |  reconciliation
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