Restorative Justice: what is it?
Current Western legal systems see crime as breaking the law, and justice as upholding the law by administering punishment, as in the case described above. The needs of all the people involved - the victim, the community and the offender are marginalised. In this way, as well as in its daily functioning, the criminal justice system is often profoundly disrespectful of most of the people involved in it. However, in traditional societies and historically in the West, crime is fundamentally about disrespect, and about harming relationships and community. Justice, in response, is about re- establishing that respect and upholding human dignity. A framework is developing globally for restorative justice practice that borrows from various indigenous cultures around the world who are now reviving ancient social justice practices and customary law.
The framework of restorative justice merges with the mainstream of traditional African conflict resolution practices. These commonalties can be summarized as:
What Restorative Justice is in practice: a case vignette
The case went to court. Several months later, the manager was found not guilty and the workman was sentenced to a fine of R 1000. After the magistrate had pronounced sentence, Thandi's family continued sitting in the court, waiting for more. The interpreter told them it was all over and that they could leave.
Speaking to a researcher later, Thandi's mother commented, "how could they paint my daughter - she is not a wall? No one even apologized".
What can we learn from this?
This sketch highlights well some of the shortcomings of our present legal system, not only in South Africa, but across the world:
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