Iconic Restorative Justice Stories In South Africa
RJC’s Success Stories
A group of teenage boys were sitting outside school one afternoon. An eleven year old girl – let’s call her Katie – walked passed them. The boys made rude remarks at her. Katie came home and talked to her father, Jake, telling him what the boys had said to her.
Jake jumped into the car, drove off to the group of boys and proceeded to assault them, injuring the eardrum of one of them. Two mothers laid a charge of assault against Jake.
The prosecutor then asked the RJC to step in, and also sent Jake to an anger management course. The RJC facilitator contacted the various parties individually. The mothers just wanted to know why this man had assaulted their sons.
After completing the anger management course Jake admitted he hadn’t realized he’d hurt the boy’s eardrum so badly. He explained that he had been retrenched a while back and had started drinking heavily. At the time of the assault, he had just stopped, and was feeling very stressed. We organized a victim-offender conference that was attended by everyone – the group of boys, their parents, Katie and Jake.
Katie told how she had felt when the boys were making bad remarks to her. Then the boys explained how they felt when Jake arrived and assaulted them. Jake told his story. He confessed that he at first hadn’t believed the injury was so bad.
The two mothers who had made the case wanted him to apologize and know why he did it. He explained that Katie got harassed so much that it made him so angry. It helped the mothers because they realized it had not been a personal thing, but had to do with Jake’s own issues. Jake apologized and promised to pay the medical bills.
The boys apologized to Katie. We reported back to the court and explained what had happened. The prosecutor understood the context of the incident and decided withdraw the matter. It was significant that: • Jake accepted responsibility, paid for expenses, went through a course and apologized. • The boys accepted responsibility, understood that their behaviour was inappropriate and apologized to Katie • The medical expenses were compensated.
If this process had not been followed there may have been a lengthy court case and a criminal record for Jake. He would likely not have had the opportunity to explain to the mothers of the boys what had prompted his behaviour. The mothers would not have received compensation for the medical expenses.
Norms and values about appropriate behaviour would not be have been affirmed in this way, nor would the opportunity to apologize, make things right and start over have been made possible.
Living in fear of the partner that you stay with, feeling the need to say a short prayer before stepping into your home, is a terrible way to live.
There is a perception that domestic violence only involves a woman being abused by her partner. However, there are cases where the male partner is the one on the receiving end. Restorative Justice Centre (RJC) dealt with a matter in which a husband opened a case of assault against his wife, after she had thrown cutlery at him during a heated argument which left him with a scar on his chest.
During a conversation with the wife she asserted that she did not hit her husband, and maintains that she did this in self defense as he had been abusing her for the past 8 years in their 20 years of marriage. The couple willingly participated in a Victim Offender Conference which was facilitated by a social worker from RJC. Both parties had the opportunity to express themselves and lay out all the hidden feelings and aggravations that they had.
The couple had two children aged 12 and 20 years respectively. During the Victim Offender Conference it became apparent that the wife was abusing alcohol, which was one of the factors that contributed to the reason the couple was always fighting.
The Victim Offender Conference assisted the couple in finding common ground and agreeing on certain commitments. The wife acknowledged the strain that her alcohol abuse put on her family and was willing to go for rehabilitation and explore new activities to distress.
Even though there is still a long road that this couple has to walk together, with RJC’s intervention, the journey will no longer be one of darkness and resentment but will have improved mutual understanding and hope.
Mandla and Judy Baloyi were a married couple from Soshanguve. They had a child who is living with the maternal parents in Limpopo. Mandla suspected that his wife was having an affair and decided to confront her about this.
Judy denied ever cheating on her husband and claimed that his suspicions were wrong. The argument quickly turned into a scuffle and a knife was drawn. Mandla stabbed his wife in the heat of the fight; the first thing that came to his mind was to call his aunt. After Mandla had told her what had happened she advised him to call the police and admit his guilt to the police. Mandla got arrested immediately.
Judy unfortunately died on the scene. During the court proceedings Mandla pleaded guilty and claimed the murder was not intentional. The court found him guilty and requested a pre-sentence report from the RJC. As part of preparing this report, the RJC social worker decided to have a victim offender conferencing for the sake of the child and peace in the two families.
The family of the victim (Judy’s family) was represented by her mother, her father and her uncle. Mandla’s family was represented by the himself, his mother and his aunt. The deceased family wanted answers of what exactly happened, they wanted to understand how the situation had escalated. It was hard for them to believe the reasons that were given, they were still angry at Mandla.
The deceased family decided that it is for the benefit of the child to keep relations going with the paternal grandparents of the child. They decided to let them see their grandchild as they wished.
“I’ve been working as a facilitator at RJC for a number of years. It’s changed the way I view our country and its people. I remember this assault case: there was a white boy of 17 years old that had assaulted a black man on the streets.
The black man was running on the street. The young white boy thought that the man was acting suspiciously and started a fight with him. The black man then laid a charge of assault, which the court referred to RJC. Because of the racial sensitivity, I involved a Black colleague.
Together, we interviewed the parties individually to understand their experience and to nurture their trust in us and in the process. When we brought everybody together we first asked the victim to tell us the story about how he was assaulted. He told us that he had felt that it was very unfair, because he was just walking on the street… Then we asked what he wanted from the process and he said: “I want my clothes that were ruined replaced”.
At that time, the father of the white boy became very agitated, He asked ‘how can they do this, charge my son, he just wanted to protect the community!’ But we said to them that his son should speak for himself. So we talked to the offender, the white boy. It turned out that he just wanted to know why the black guy had been running on the street that day. And he said: ‘My baby son was born that day that was why I was running on the street, because I was so happy! I was on my way to see my son, but then was assaulted and had to sit in the police station rather than seeing my son….’ And everyone responded to that: ‘Oh, great! Congratulations!’ Everyone was excited.
I felt so happy, to see that the whole atmosphere changed just like that. The mother of the white boy then said: ‘I would like to buy the baby some clothes, can I?’ Some others that were there wanted to do other things for the victim and his baby. Then they all went out of the office together, bought some new clothes for him to replace his torn clothes, and also bought some clothes for the baby.
The black man later told me ‘I am so happy that I have made new friends!’ I think that by supporting the communication between these people, they understood each other. They saw each other as human beings and started sharing each other’s happiness.
I also think they have learned not to judge people, not to jump to conclusions. If we do not change the prejudices, conflict will remain. That is why restorative justice is so important: it breaks through stereotypes and thereby reduces conflict. It may seem like a ‘small thing’, but actually we are setting an example, creating an experience for people that they will share with others.
South Africa needs reconciliation. This was reconciliation in practice: a story of reconciliation that is contagious. And I am proud to be a part of that.”