How restorative justice can bring health to SA's fractured communities

Marking international restorative justice week

24 November 2021 - 06:00 By GILL GIFFORD
Restorative justice practitioner Venessa Padayachee of the College of Humanities at the University of KwaZulu-Natal has presented case studies that show the positive effects of the restorative justice model.
Restorative justice practitioner Venessa Padayachee of the College of Humanities at the University of KwaZulu-Natal has presented case studies that show the positive effects of the restorative justice model.
Image: Supplied

Efforts to implement restorative justice in various scenarios across SA are bearing fruit, and the stories are being highlighted this week, International Restorative Justice Week.

This year’s theme is “Protect and empower the person harmed”, and is particularly aligned with the work being done in SA. Restorative justice is a system that focuses on the rehabilitation of offenders through reconciliation with victims and the community at large.

One practitioner, Venessa Padayachee of the College of Humanities at the University of KwaZulu-Natal — who has been working in collaboration with various NPOs, conflict resolution experts and the Restorative Justice Centre (RJC) — presented three case studies illustrating the success of restorative justice interventions.

Titled “Stories of healing and restoration”, Padayachee’s project involved work with three Khulisa beneficiaries.

Khulisa Social Solutions and the RJC have been applying tangible interventions to transform the way that people coexist in SA, proving that restorative justice initiatives can radically improve community safety and progress.

“We are introducing different types of dialogue around restoration, bringing in grass roots community members, showing their capacity to negotiate their own peace. By doing so, we open up opportunities for investment in developing people to their full potential as constructive members of society, primarily through NGOs at this level,” said Lesley Ann van Selm, founder and MD at Khulisa.

She said Khulisa and the RJC intend sending out skilled mediators to the hardest-hit communities in SA with the aim to reduce crime, violence and bullying.

“Our people are hungry for the knowledge that we so passionately want to empower them with. Our benefactors have already seen the positive results of our work,” said Van Selm.

Padayachee said the cases highlighted this week  illustrate how peace mediation prevented further catastrophe from occurring.

Her first story was that of Peter Kapaso, 38, from Zimbabwe, who joined the Khulisa puppet awareness programme on GBV and the Child Justice Act in schools in 2012.

He felt the affect of xenophobia when his community began rejecting him, saying “no foreign person” could lead them.

“Through a mediation process the community was eventually won over. Peter gained their respect and now runs his own NGO,” Padayachee said.

Xoliswa Olifant, 45, has a pigmentation problem and albinism. She won an internship with City Lodge but because they did not have tools and working aids to help people like her with their vision and disability issues, she struggled to complete the programme.

With assistance from Khulisa she initiated a meeting with City Lodge who invited her to table recommendations. They contacted her this year for a referral as they wanted to invite another person with albinism to join their housekeeping division.

The third case was that of Lydia Sono, a community builder and health trainer. Sono and her girlfriend were attacked and raped by a group of men known to them.

They reported the matter and the police treated them badly — derogatorily referring to them as lesbians, refused the case, and referred them to the hospital. Sono tried to lay charges several times, but was fobbed off and ordered to bring the suspects in herself if she wanted action.

Depressed, she attempted suicide.

Eventually she received assistance from a supportive NGO, started a support group of her own and more than 200 people from her community came out as gay.

She has now registered the Lydio Sono Foundation, hosted 10 community dialogues and become a respected activist. She has received awards for bravery, participated in a Green Paper drive to have Home Affairs include a third gender marker in IDs and founded a church that does not discriminate against LGBTI people.

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